Ray O. Light
In the November 2000 U.S. Presidential Election, then Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George Bush vied to become the chief spokesman for US imperialism. Both represented the strategic interests of US imperialism. Both were backed by record breaking millions of dollars from the coffers of US and multinational corporations and banks. Both used all the deceptive advertising gimmicks that Madison Avenue has perfected to sell anything and everything to the masses. Al Gore won the popular vote in the general election by more than a half million votes. Yet George W. Bush became the new President of the USA!
US imperialism touts its "free and democratic" political system and points its fingers at much of the rest of the world, selectively criticizing "fraudulent", "fixed", and "unfair" elections. In fact, the vote in Florida and therefore the US presidential election of 2000 was a case study in such corrupted elections. The election hung in the balance for almost two months awaiting the outcome of the results in the Florida vote and the ultimate designation of its 25 electoral votes. It was marked by voter fraud, uncounted ballots, confusing ballots, antiquated voting equipment that did not work right, police intimidation, registered voters not being allowed to vote on election day, and systematic disenfranchisement of the Afro-American, Haitian, and other poor and oppressed communities. With the theft of the Florida election vote, the Bush faction of the US ruling class actually stole the election from the Gore faction.
The temporary gridlock of this unresolved election represented a political crisis for US imperialism and an opportunity for the international working class and oppressed peoples. For it demonstrated just how far removed from the popular vote is the election of the US head of state. It was the US Supreme Court that ended this political crisis for US imperialism. They voted five to four to stop the vote count and give the Florida electoral vote to Bush. With the whole world watching, George W. Bush was handpicked as the next president of the USA by the votes of five unelected, unaccountable, Supreme Court judges!
As comrade Lenin had taught,
"[From the standpoint of the imperialist bourgeoisie] Nothing in our times can be done without elections;... in this era of printing and parliamentarism it is impossible to gain the following of the masses without a widely ramified, systematically managed, well-equipped system of flattery, lies, fraud, juggling with fashionable and popular catch words, and promising all manner of reforms and blessings to the workers right and left -- as long as they renounce the revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie." (Imperialism and the Split in Socialism, 1916)
With the demise of the socialist camp, US imperialism had stepped up its political momentum and used its global media monopoly to wrap itself in the banner of "democracy", of political pluralism, of free elections. However, the 2000 US Presidential Election and the general US election underscored the continuing validity of Leninism, i.e. Marxism in the era of imperialism and the unfolding proletarian revolution. It provided ample exposure of the big lie of "American Exceptionalism" and the bankruptcy of revisionism. The following are some important lessons the international working class and the oppressed peoples can draw from the experience of this election.
LESSON #1: The famous "checks and balances" found in US Constitutional Government are not checks on the limits of power of one of the three branches by the others; in reality, they are a check on the ability of the people of the USA to mount any serious challenge to monopoly capitalist rule. The US Constitution is not a democratic but an anti-democratic document. The fact that Gore won the popular vote with a 500,000 plurality over Bush-even with all the crooked activity that went on, meant nothing. In effect, Bush and Vice President Cheney won the election by a 5 to 4 vote of the 9 judges of the US Supreme Court. These judges are appointed for life by the sitting President to fill vacancies as they occur. Seven of the current nine were appointed by Republican Presidents including several by George W.'s father.*
In stopping the vote count in Florida and then a few days later rendering a decision, in the name of "political stability", that completely contradicted their general states' rights bias, the US Supreme Court showed it is nothing more than an unelected, unaccountable, permanent prop of the monopoly capitalist and imperialist bourgeois system.
Justice John Paul Stevens, disgusted by the naked power move made by his fellow Republican Supreme Court justices, stated: "Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election; the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."
The electoral college, which most people both inside and outside the USA never knew existed, is a safety valve for the monopolists against the people. After the victory of the Revolutionary War for Independence, the new US government had been set up under the Articles of Confederation. Under the Articles several rebellions against the new ruling classes had already taken place. The so-called Founding Fathers (including a large Slaveowner minority) implemented the Constitution, including the electoral college, precisely to keep the "one man--one vote" principle from taking root in the USA. In the 2000 election, the existence of the electoral college allowed the Florida legislature, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, George's brother(!), and his Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the Florida Supreme Court and others to try to substitute their will for the will of the people. Finally, the US Supreme Court, the most undemocratic branch of the US government, trumped them all.
LESSON #2: With all the US Imperialist rhetoric about the "precious" right to vote, millions of working people in the USA are systematically deprived of this "human right". First of all, before even dealing with the USA, the vast majority of the peoples of the world, including those most directly affected by US government policies policing the US World Empire (such as the peoples of Iraq, Kosovo and Colombia), had no vote in the US election. Secondly, within the US multinational state, the huge number of mainly Latino "legal" (non-citizen) and "illegal" immigrants who do so much of the work, had no right to vote. (Estimates of 10.5 million documented and 5.5 million undocumented immigrants live in the USA-Montelibre Monthly Nov. 2000). On top of that, the people of the colony of Puerto Rico had no vote either. Thirdly, huge numbers of Afro-American people, especially men, have been permanently disenfranchised in many states by disproportionate unequal sentencing to felony convictions. More than one in eight Afro-American men was disenfranchised on the basis of a previous or current felony conviction. In addition, in Florida, and elsewhere, the Afro-American people's right to vote was disproportionately thwarted on this basis as well as by police roadblocks, discourteous and high-handed treatment by election officials as well as police, much larger numbers of defective voting machines, etc. (Shades of the Segregationist US South of the post Reconstruction era up to the 1960's! ) In addition, defective voting machines underscore the disproportionate exclusion of all the have-nots in US society (Black, brown, white, Asian, and native American) from the voting process.
Eighty-four years ago, in his great work on The State and Revolution, Lenin described it thus:
" ... Democracy for the rich -- that is the democracy of capitalist society. If we look more closely into the machinery of capitalist democracy, we shall see everywhere, in the 'petty'--supposedly petty--details of the suffrage (residential qualification, exclusion of women, etc.), in the technique of the representative institutions, in the actual obstacles to the right of assembly (public buildings are not for 'beggars'!), in the purely capitalist organization of the daily press, etc., etc.--we shall see restriction after restriction upon democracy. These restrictions, exclusions, obstacles for the poor, seem slight, especially in the eyes of one who has never known want himself...; but in their sum total these restrictions exclude and squeeze out the poor from politics, from active participation in democracy."
In this context, Cuban Premier Fidel Castro's offer to send Cuban observers to Florida was a timely exposure of US imperialist democratic pretensions.
LESSON #3: With all the talk of freedom of choice, there are no fundamental differences between Bush and Gore. Afro-American political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, writing from Death Row, observed that, "...the truth is, both major presidential candidates were millionaires and despite what they said, both were auditioning for jobs for the rulers." Among the many fundamental issues that unite Gore and Bush are the following: the role of the US state as the global policeman on behalf of international capitalism; on international trade-support for WTO, World Bank, IMF; domestically, enthusiastic funding of Star Wars military spending; a great nation chauvinist and anticommunist "hardball" approach to the Elian Gonzalez affair; the plundering of Social Security; opposition to universal health care and the wholesale dismantling of the social safety net.
During the eight years of the Clinton-Gore Administration, despite the boom in the US economy, the gap between the rich and the poor continued to rise and the number of working poor increased tremendously as millions were forcibly removed from the welfare rolls. Year after year there was a substantial increase in the number of people in the USA who have no health care insurance at all. In addition, the unionization rate continued to fall-- threatening the very existence of organized labor in the USA. Furthermore, as US imperialist military expert Elliot Cohen points out, "the country's armed services are extraordinarily busy." "They wage a low-level war in Iraq (barely noticed in the newspapers), patrol the streets of Kosovo, cruise the South China Sea, and train peacekeepers for Sierra Leone and antinarcotics commandos in Colombia" (p.55, Foreign Affairs, Nov-Dec 2000). In fact, Gore and Vice Presidential candidate Lieberman were two of the twelve Democratic Senators who had "crossed over" to support previous Republican President George Bush in his brutal imperialist war against the people of Iraq ten years earlier.
Yet, despite this vicious record, the treacherous revisionists of the CPUSA along with the AFL-CIO hierarchy ("the labor lieutenants of the capitalist class"), and most of the Afro-American social democratic and bourgeois misleadership, and along with the leadership of the petty bourgeois feminist and environmentalist movements, remained loyal to the Democrats and to the two-party (one class) monopolist controlled political system.
During the Presidential campaign between Bush and Gore, much was made of the fact that Gore seemed phony, alienated, unreal. Labor Party advocate Bill Onasch, in an insightful article, explained the reason for Gore's bad acting job:
"... Gore was always on the cutting edge within the Clinton Administration on issues such as destroying the social safety net, privatization, and promoting policies of globalization. He earned his untold millions in hard and soft contributions from corporate sources.
"But Gore ran into a string of bad luck. Social polarization, and the determination of the labor, feminist, civil rights, and environmental movement leaderships to maintain their commitment to the two-party system, thrust Gore into the unsought and uncomfortable role of 'populist'.
"Instead of crowing about the success of Free Trade, taking pride in unparalleled growth of the stock market, and promising more 'reinventing government'-removing government services and the workers that perform them--as he would have liked to do, poor Gore had to talk about saving Social Security and Medicare, and promise to make the right appointments to the Supreme Court. While he could get plenty of money from the rich he had to hustle votes through the mass organizations of the working class." ("The American Political System Reviewed")
Along with the massive pro-Gore campaign waged by the treacherous misleadership of the CPUSA revisionists in conjunction with the AFL-CIO hierarchy and much of the Black Bourgeoisie, and on "the other side" the Bush Republican millions, it took hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign advertising by the Republicans and Democrats as well as the free propaganda provided by the monopolist controlled mass media to convince the less than half the eligible people who voted for the Bush/Gore "Republicrat" duopoly to come out and vote at all!
Lenin explained this phenomenon in this way:
"Marx grasped this essence of capitalist democracy splendidly, when...he said that the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament!" (The State and Revolution, p. 107, Foreign Language Press, Peking)
LESSON #4: There are no fundamental differences between the Republican and Democratic Parties. Together, as tweedledum and tweedledee, they loyally represent the rule of monopoly capitalism and imperialism in the USA. The biggest exposure of this fact emerged from the stalemate in the Presidential vote of November 7th. While the demand for "counting all the votes" was being raised by the Democrats in Florida, focusing on exceptional votes that numbered in the hundreds (including "chads" of all types), the Gore/Daley Democratic Party machine was virtually silent on the massive disenfranchisement of Afro-American voters there that involved tens of thousands of votes. Only Jesse Jackson and a small number of other "left" democrats among the Afro-American population raised up and mobilized around this disenfranchisement that has its roots in the betrayal of Reconstruction following the close Presidential Election of 1876. In exchange for pulling the Union troops out of the South at that time, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was selected as President despite the fact that Democrat Samuel Tilden had received the majority of the popular vote. That deal for the Presidency doomed Florida among other Southern states to domination by Ku Klux Klan rule. Contemporary white supremacist political power in Florida is still conditioned by the 1876 "deal" and it largely determined the way the 2000 Presidential Election was decided in Florida!!! Yet Gore and the Democrats were strangely silent on this vital question of Afro-American disenfranchisement.
The most dramatic illustration of this occurred at the January 6th, 2001 joint meeting of the US House and Senate which officially and legally anointed George W. Bush as the next US President. This Joint Session had to review and approve the electoral college vote for the Presidency on a state-by-state basis. One by one, about a dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus (joined by several other Congresspeople including Patsy Mink of the stolen island nation of Hawaii) raised an official protest of the Florida electoral vote -- attempting to expose the Republican theft of the Florida vote and with it the US Presidency! It was none other than Vice President Al Gore as the presiding officer in the Senate who suppressed the Black representatives on the "Constitutional" basis that not one Senator had signed any of these motions of protest. Had even one Democratic Senator signed, there would have been a two hour debate in which the theft of the Presidency could have been thoroughly exposed and perhaps the outcome changed. Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. finally said in frustration that not even one of the 50 Democratic Senators would join their resistance. The deal was in. Gore had helped keep the Democratic Senators in line. Support for the system was the priority. The election was just a game being played on the masses of the U.S. people.
Especially the Afro-American people, who had been the most loyal and supportive voting bloc for Gore, should not forget Gore's desertion of them as they were systematically disenfranchised in Florida and elsewhere. Nor should the Congressional Black Caucus forget that, in that historic Joint Session on January 6th, as they defended democracy for all, they were abandoned by Gore and every Senate Democrat, as well as almost all their House colleagues! The Democratic Party is a dead-end for all the oppressed and exploited!!
Immediately after the inauguration, President George W. Bush nominated John Ashcroft to be US Attorney General. The responsibilities of this cabinet position include enforcement of civil rights throughout the entire USA. Ashcroft is a proven opponent of civil rights for the Afro-American people and a glorifier of the "lost cause" of the pro slave Confederacy in the US Civil War! Again, the sham opposition of the Democratic Senators was in evidence. Forty-two Democrats voted against Ashcroft. But if they had really wanted to stop his nomination forty-one were needed to filibuster and force Bush to nominate someone else. Even more revealing is the fact that Ashcroft, who has been projected in the media as a righteous Christian ideologue being persecuted for his religious beliefs by the "left," was never challenged at his confirmation hearings. Neither the $50 thousand dollar pay-off he got from Schering-Plough, the maker of the super profitable allergy drug Claritin, in exchange for his sponsorship of last year's bill extending their patent, nor the $1.7 million dollars he got from the oil, chemical, and paper companies in exchange for his opposition to expensive environmental protection legislation, was raised. Texas populist Jim Hightower has pointed out that this is because the Senate Democrats are feeding from the same corporate trough as Ashcroft and the Republicans.
LESSON #5: In the USA, national elections do not guarantee that the working people will have their interests represented by the elected representatives; precisely the opposite is the case. The elections are a vehicle for the enforcement of the rule of the richest 1% of the US population.
This is how it is done. The monopoly capitalists control both these parties. Very often they back both the Republican and Democratic candidates for the same office. And once they have an incumbent, they "ride" him like a saddlehorse. As the Hightower Lowdown (January 2001) pointed out, "The most startling statistic of Election 2000: 99% of congressional incumbents were re-elected. Less than 5% were even seriously challenged, thanks mostly to the huge money advantage they enjoy."
The connection between monopoly representation and US national elections is also obvious from the incredible amount of money that is spent on the election campaigns compared with the anticipated (legal) pay and benefits that US Congresspeople and Presidents receive. This was more true than ever in the 2000 US Election. For example, Jon Corzine used $65 million dollars to purchase the Senate seat in New Jersey. Assuming he serves the full six-year term, Corzine will be rewarded with only about a million and half dollars in pay, maybe two million with benefits added. What could motivate such an expenditure by a businessman other than the corrupt connection between the US monopoly ruling class and their political puppets in Washington D.C.?!
In the election for President, the Republican war chest for Governor George W. Bush was so large even before the primary season had begun, that he refused the federal matching funds because they would have restricted his funding! Bush raised and spent more money than any candidate in US history. What will the US ruling class get in return? In addition to the repressive government and the regressive tax cuts they would have experienced under Gore, if the people allow it, there will be the total abolition of the inheritance tax--an enormous boondoggle that the rich only need for a short window of opportunity every generation or so.
Any member of Congress who wants to speak for the people and oppose and expose the corrupt handing over of huge sums of money to the military-industrial complex and other elements of Corporate America, will be dumped out of Congress. They will be kicked out of the capitalist paradise; they will have their keys to the country club life taken away and the doors locked against them. On top of that, any skeletons in their closet will be trumpeted by the monopolist-controlled media. The result of their ethical anti-corporate effort will be public humiliation and disgrace. Thus, the US monopoly capitalists and imperialists, the US ruling class, use these "democratic" elections to ensure that their interests will be represented.
LESSON #6: In the USA, the mass media is not used to inform and educate the people on what the political issues are. The highly touted US "free press" is used in precisely the opposite way. It uses the threat of scandal to keep public figures in lockstep with the interests of its monopoly capitalist owners and their ruling class friends. Personal scandal is substituted for political knowledge. In the name of "free speech" and "the right of the people to know", the US mass media unfold scandals in a deliberate and calculating way so as to bury, distort and/or otherwise control the portrayal of legitimate and significant news that vitally affects the people.**
In the aftermath of the November 7th presidential election deadlock, the mass media made a concerted effort to get Gore to be a "graceful" instead of a "sore loser". As Gore Vidal wrote in the Nation: "Gore was accused of trying to steal an election he had won." (January 8-15, 2001) Once Gore conceded, the media treated him almost reverentially for his "grace and nobility." But thousands of Afro-Americans and Haitians, as well as elderly Jewish people whose votes had gone to the anti-Semitic Buchanan(!), were not ready to give up their rights so easily. Their spokesman was Jesse Jackson. A day or two before he was to lead a massive counter inaugural protest in Florida's capital, Tallahassee, Jackson was compelled by the media to expose his own sex scandal and to announce that he was dropping out of politics for the time being. Four days later, a few days after the Presidential inauguration, Jackson was back in business. But the anti-inaugural protest had been decapitated by the well-timed scandal.
With its world-wide domination of the airwaves in this period (CNN et al.), the role of the US mass media as a faithful and effective promoter of US imperialism must not be underestimated.
LESSON #7: The Ralph Nader -- Green Party Campaign was worthy of critical support in order to try to help smash the "two-party" system through which the monopolists have exercised a stranglehold on political power almost uninterruptedly since 1876. However, these petty bourgeois democrats as well as the Trotskyites and revisionists came to the aid of the system when it got in trouble.
On the positive side, as the campaign unfolded Nader did an increasingly effective job in exposing how Gore and the Democrats were no alternative to Bush. Furthermore, a real effort was made to reach out to organized labor on the basis of exposure of Gore's anti-labor position on globalization-with some initial interest on the part of the United Auto Workers and the Teamsters Union leadership --among others. Had the Nader campaign been supported by the revisionists, Trotskyites, social-democratic trade unionists, Afro-American community activists, etc. he and the Green Party would have been able to break through the 5% threshold for significant federal funding. While this certainly would not have been the political solution, its achievement would, nevertheless, have represented a blow to US imperialism's virtually unchallenged and unquestioned political agenda in the USA.
It must be remembered, however, that Nader and the Green Party are national chauvinist to the core (like the Green/Social Democrat coalition government in Germany and the Blair government in England, the strongest European pro-NATO and pro-US imperialist representatives in the brutal unprovoked war on Yugoslavia). And this chauvinist position somewhat accounted for Nader's influence with some of the leaders of organized labor. Nader never dissociated himself from the pro-Nazi Buchanan. And no serious appeal was made to the Afro-American community to challenge Gore for their support. In the aftermath of the election, during the chaotic Florida electoral battle that culminated with the theft of the Florida and US presidential contest(s) by the Bush faction, political uncertainty was the number one news item. At that time, precisely when tremendous political education could have been done among the millions of US citizens by Nader and the Greens, they remained strangely silent on the disenfranchisement of the Afro-American people, the anti-democratic character of the electoral college, etc.
In classical Trotskyite fashion, in pursuit of its narrow sectarian aims, Workers World Party ran token candidates for president and vice president, siphoning off voters and activists who could have energized the Nader campaign. But the betrayal of the CPUSA revisionists was the greatest of all. At a time when tremendous energies were expended to mobilize union members and the Afro-American people to vote, the arch revisionists of the CPUSA helped keep labor, and the Afro-American people tied to the "dead-end street" of Gore and the Democrats and thereby gave the strongest support to the political system of US imperialism. The blood of the peoples from Colombia to Iraq to Indonesia to the Balkans is on their hands!
Almost the entire post World War Two period, at least the past 50 years, has been characterized by the efforts of revisionists in communist and workers parties throughout the world (whether in state power or not) to establish a rapprochement with United States imperialism. This reformist and defeatist plague has also afflicted revolutionary nationalist forces fighting for liberation of their nations oppressed by imperialism, headed by US imperialism. To justify this treachery to the world's oppressed and exploited peoples, there has been a worldwide effort to prettify US imperialism. This effort to promote "American Exceptionalism" has been sponsored by the imperialists and their direct representatives and carried out by their stooges, the revisionists and other sellout leaders among the international working class and among the anti-imperialist movements of the colonial and dependent peoples of the world. This has involved a wholesale revision of the teachings of Lenin on imperialism and its inevitable drive to war, the nature of the state, etc.
The concrete experience of the 2000 Presidential Election and its aftermath serves as a useful antidote to the poisonous "American Exceptionalism" which has played such a large role ideologically in disarming the international communist movement.
Furthermore, while, tactically, the proletarian revolutionary movement in all lands, including within the USA, must continue to seek and find useful participation in the electoral struggle depending upon time, conditions, and place; the strategic teaching of Comrade Lenin with regard to the role of bourgeois elections, especially under monopoly capitalism and imperialism, still resonates with even greater vitality in the aftermath of the US Presidential Election of 2000. In his immortal work on The State and Revolution, Lenin taught that,
"... Engels is most definite in calling universal suffrage an instrument of bourgeois rule. Universal suffrage, he says, ... is 'the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It cannot and never will be anything more in the present-day state.'
"The petty-bourgeois democrats... expect just this 'more' from universal suffrage. They themselves share and instill into the minds of the people the false notion that universal suffrage 'in the modern state' is really capable of ascertaining the will of the majority of the toilers and of securing its realization."
While left opportunists in the USA such as the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) believe that the mass disillusionment with electoral politics (evidenced by the fact that half the eligible voters are not going to the polls) is a sign that the system is in trouble; in reality, paralysis, cynicism and apathy are not the ingredients for building proletarian power sufficient to challenge the power of the bourgeois state. With regard to the electoral struggle, in opposition to such "left" opportunist and adventurist posturing as well as to right opportunist tailing of the imperialist bourgeoisie by the revisionist CPUSA and to Trotskyite sectarianism, as practiced by Workers World and others, the genuine Leninists need to help develop a mass Afro-American, Latino and Labor Party with which, under Marxist-Leninist leadership, the workers and the oppressed masses can learn through their own experience the limitations of bourgeois democracy and the need to fight for victorious national and social revolution by whatever means necessary.
Just as Lenin stood on the shoulders of Engels and Marx, so we must stand on the shoulders of Lenin and go forward to victory of the world proletarian revolution.
Wherever the international working class and the oppressed peoples are in struggle against US imperialism over the next four years the illegitimacy of the Bush Administration and the anti-democratic nature of US imperialism as personified by this Administration must be raised by the communists and revolutionary democrats as a key component of their political education and mobilization of the class and the masses.
*) Bush senior, before becoming President, had previously served as head of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), thus giving the intelligence services some unknown role in the election.
**) During the Clinton Presidency, the Whitewater Scandal was used in the interests of the US insurance companies and banks to get the Clintons and others to back off of health care reform. At crucial moments Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal details were revealed and used to push important news events into oblivion. This occurred, for example, on the eve of the Pope's visit to Cuba when, in an unprecedented move, all three US network nightly news show anchors had planned to broadcast from Cuba--giving the ignorant and brainwashed US citizens some real knowledge of Cuba. Again, on the eve of the Report of the Clinton-sponsored Civil Rights Commission on the status of the Afro-American people in today's USA, the US media used this scandal to permanently bury this report.
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