Democracy and Plutocracy

The struggle to be waged by the working class and the toiling masses for their democratic rights in capitalist society is of crucial importance and cannot be neglected. But beyond this minimum goal of struggle, those who want the emancipation of humanity and a real democracy in today’s world, must desire and fight for the revolution that will overthrow capitalism. Nothing but the rule of the revolutionary working class and the workers’ democracy can lead workers and toilers to a prosperous and happy future!

Social history involves many illuminating lessons for today. Hitherto no ruling class in history volunteered to leave the stage of history upon realising that it has come to the end. This rule holds for today all the more. Moreover, capitalist system is much more based on a ferocious greed for exploitation and profit than any other social order in history. As the system flounders in a profound historical crisis, the rulers, with their ferocious desire to protect their interests at any cost, drag humanity and the planet towards destruction. Because of imperialist powers’ greed to re-divide spheres of influence, peoples around the world, especially in the Middle East, are driven into the flames of war, and exploitation of the working people all over the world is going multiple. In many countries bourgeois democratic rights are being curtailed, oligarchic practices of government are being reinforced. In short, while democracy is in death agony the bourgeois order is transforming itself into a fully-fledged rule of plutocracy.

It is not an accident that the recent period of capitalist system is a chaotic and painful process full of troubles. Capitalist mode of production is a system that prepares its own end as it develops. It cannot work without destructive crises. Every big crisis so far could be overcome at the expense of disasters such as imperialist wars, which, in turn, prepared the way for bigger crises. And imperialist capitalism which has developed into its maturity as a fully global economy has now entered a new period in which it has gone past its glory days for good. In its inescapable profound crisis it is going towards the end of its history. The present period we are passing through vindicates years-old Marxist analyses explaining that the period of capitalist ascent would be followed by an inevitable period of downfall. Undoubtedly, human history and the masses’ aspirations for a better future have not ended. But the “end of history” in the sense that there is no future for capitalism is nigh. Along with decaying capitalist order bourgeois democracy is also in death agony. Humanity will be able to save itself from the existing desperate situation only by surpassing capitalism and achieving workers’ democracy.

A conflict-generating system

The process of capital accumulation on a world scale proceeds by reproducing, in various forms, relations of inequality among countries. Relations of inequality stemming from capitalist mode of production mean polarisation of society along class lines and a mode of operation based on competition among capitalists. Never-ending class struggle between opposing classes and competition and conflicts among various capital groups and capitalist states for grabbing a bigger share from profits demonstrate that capitalism can never achieve a peaceful operation.

The striking facts of present day caused by the laws of capitalism have exposed those old and so-called new “theories” that global capitalism would ultimately take the world to a peace period. The dream of a “fairer” or “more peaceful” capitalism pushed on the masses mostly by liberal left writers in Turkey and other countries has turned into ashes amidst flames of spreading imperialist division wars. The simple fact is: following the collapse of the Soviet Union the flames of imperialist wars between imperialist powers such as the USA and EU ravaged first the Balkans, and then the Middle East has been ruined by successive re-division wars, and various African countries have been put into a bloodbath. The pace of competition among big capitalist powers is increasing, together with imperialist wars spreading out. The tensions and conflicts of interest on a world scale are deepening, now involving spheres of influence such as oil areas like Mosul and Kirkuk, and Ukraine, and antagonising biggest imperialist powers like Russia, the USA and China as well as regional powers like Turkey and Iran.

Contrary to those arguments that global capitalism will gradually end nation-states, what we see in this age of conflicts is a growing number of nation states going into fight with one another in a competition struggle. And there are new nation states coming into existence as a result of splitting of some countries that are a subject of dividing up. Also, under conditions of mass poverty caused by capitalism rising class struggle in some countries makes bourgeois states more authoritarian and oppressive with anti-democratic practices building up. Bourgeois governments in all countries are spending billions from national budgets in order to reinforce the instrument of violence over the masses. Likewise, because of escalating conflicts of interests among states they increase military spending in order to fortify national borders and strengthen the war machine.

While today’s world evokes an age of chaos, this is, in fact, a basic feature of capitalism in its age of exhaustion. After the so-called socialist regime in the Soviet Union collapsed, capitalism remained the only system in the world. But it is a global system prone to breakdown. Despite there may be some temporary recoveries in the coming period, crisis and instability permeating through all elements of this system are a sign of complete impasse in terms of the basic workings of the system. This dilapidated system is counting its days for it to be overthrown by the struggle of the working masses across the world. This situation makes bourgeois rulers, in their panic to escape from the inevitable end, more and more brutal and merciless against the struggle of the working masses.

It is quite obvious that the historical system crisis of capitalism, with all its manifestations, is not accompanied by peace and democracy but war and reaction. As capitalism approaches its own end bourgeois parliamentary regime loses its features that produce a relative social agreement, and its class dictatorship aspect comes to the fore in a more clear way. Not only in Turkey but in many countries the bourgeois political arena, reflecting the impasse of the system, has turned into a dilapidated game of teeter-totter inspiring no new hopes. Unable to gain the consent of the large part of the masses anymore, the bourgeois rulers find no other remedy than huge campaigns of lies and stepping up authoritarian tendencies. It has become ordinary everywhere from America to Europe, from Africa to Asia, from the Middle East to Turkey that the bourgeois politicians, floundering in their effort to remain in power against all kinds of social opposition, resort to most incredible plots, intrigues, bribery and corruption.

From democracy to plutocracy

In those countries where and at those times when the bourgeois democracy opened its eyes as a result of waves of struggle coming from the deep, it involved the gains as products of popular struggles and the spirit of the bourgeois democratic revolutions. Particularly the USA, which was founded as a result of American Independence War (1775-1783) waged against British colonialism and came to the fore as a rising young capitalist country of those times, was showing important examples in this respect. As noted by Marx and Engels as well, there were institutions such as popular militia, people’s juries once upon a time in America. We can give another example from America. Thomas Paine (1737-1809), most famous democracy activist, anti-slavery political theorist who influenced American Independence War and 1789 French Revolution, voiced human rights and freedoms which are the most comprehensive expressions of bourgeois democracy in his book “Human Rights”.

At that time, capitalism was in a period of feverish ascent called the era of free competition. The political arena at that time was swayed by bourgeois democratic tendencies particular to those times. For example Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), one of American presidents, advocated a broad bourgeois democracy based on voluntary support of the masses against class rule of a stratum including top capitalists. Jefferson with a democratic spirit reflecting the will of the working masses said: “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

However, in parallel with the monopolisation in capitalism, bourgeois governments also began to become monopolised and bourgeois democracy began to lose the democratic spirit it had had in the beginning. This historical tendency was to find expression in Lenin’s analyses over imperialist era as the tendency towards reaction in bourgeois democracies. To avoid misunderstanding, this identification did not mean a political reaction simultaneously happening in all capitalist countries. Because, while those countries that led the capitalist development experience such a historical process of reaction, there were still countries in the world that newly woke up to bourgeois democratic transformations. On the other hand this identification of “political reaction” was a relative one. It was a relative regression in bourgeois democracy happening with time in those capitalist countries such as America, Britain, France etc. where bourgeois order had been built through democratic revolutions joined by popular masses. The identification of “political reaction” did not mean a permanent change in ways of government in the sense of a transition from ordinary bourgeois regimes to extraordinary bourgeois regimes.

In a similar way to Lenin’s identification, famous American novelist Jack London took this issue in a literary way in his works as well. In his famous novel “Iron Heel” published in 1908 he explained in a striking way the anti-democratic course in bourgeois regimes on the basis of the change in America. He described this situation as the iron heel of the capitalist system, i.e. the rule of the plutocracy. The Iron Heel was about the transformation of the bourgeois order in the USA into the rule of the plutocracy consisting of trust kings and managers of big corporations, told by the novel’s hero, Everhard the socialist.

Democratic president Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) who helped abolish slavery in America described the republic as “the government of the people, by the people, for the people” while he was stating that those who had died in American Civil War (1861-1865) waged by the North against pro-slavery South did not die in vain. However, with time, as Jack London noted in a striking way in his famous novel, the number of those who called the political regime in America “plutocracy” grew. They amended Lincoln’s words as “the government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich” in their description of the political regime. As a result of the historical crisis capitalism finds itself in lately, certain facts have become so overt that even from the mouths of the top figures we hear interesting confessions about the unsustainability of capitalism in its present form. For example, Martin Wolf, chief of economics section in Financial Times, warned of a social revolution threatening capitalist order and described the world order as a plutocratic one.

The concept of plutocracy connotes an oligarchic rule based on grabbing of the power of governing by a rich and privileged estate rising above society. In short, it means “the government of the rich” and points to capitalism losing its progressive fuel and, in parallel with it, the political situation that comes out by shrinkage of democracy in bourgeois order. Though legally an extraordinary regime such as one similar to fascism from the standpoint of the science of politics cannot be said to be in the pipeline, it is true that bourgeois governments have turned into a government of the rich, a plutocracy, when one considers even the ordinary daily facts in capitalist countries. Leave aside those examples such as Turkey where bourgeois regimes are built from above and where there was not any wide bourgeois democracy at the start in the example of Europe and America. In American and European examples which were shaped by bourgeois democratic revolutions joined by the masses, political governments based in the beginning on wider sections of the people were gradually replaced by the government of the rich. While bourgeois parliamentary regimes are apparently at work in these countries, as one goes deeper into the depths of the structuring of political power, one plainly sees how they have moved away from the bourgeois democracy in the beginning. Also in the example of Turkey which is already a stunted bourgeois democracy frequently interrupted by military coups bourgeois government have increasingly turned into government of the rich. Erdogan’s case is a latest and striking case in point. While he boasts for putting an end to the military tutelage in Turkey, he has now built a new rule around his own authority.

It is clear that in all capitalist countries it has become much more expensive to find a place in the arena of bourgeois politics and the positions have increasingly become a means for getting richer rather than being positions for political service. While bourgeois governments are generally in the service of big capital in the age of monopoly capital, they have turned into kind of club of the rich as capitalism grows old and decays, as if to justify the term plutocracy. Moreover, beginning with 1980s, when the mobility and integration of big capital wildly increased across the world, the term plutocracy gained a more palpable embodiment. The developments in this direction in this period produced such types as Berlusconi, Sarkozy in Europe, who are different from the bourgeois politicians of the old times and who care more about their monied interests rather than political balances. Likewise, in various Asian countries there are plenty of “modern” bourgeois politicians who stick to their chairs despite great scandals of corruption. Besides, one of the realities of today’s world is those types who have promoted from the old ruling bureaucracy to capitalist plutocrats in Russia and China which are newly rising powers of capitalism. And this is the obscured fact in Turkey under the dust of religious/secular dispute of the recent period. Recep Tayyip Erdogan belongs to this typology of politicians combining monopolisation of political government and the ambition to get rich on a monopoly level, and, despite all soaring corruption scandals, managing to maintain his power thanks to the popular support he produced.

The “polarisation” placed in our political life through prime-minister Erdogan’s pushing for more and more tension within society for the sake of his own calculations and interests, in fact, reflects a general tendency of capitalist era of decay beyond the example of Turkey. As the voluntary support offered by the masses to bourgeois governments decreases, parliamentary election system relies more on media games and mass manipulation devouring billions of liras. As capitalism deepens the rich/poor polarisation within society, bourgeois parties distort realities for the working masses not to get conscious of the class divide, and they divide society according to the conflicts of interest of the club of the rich. And Tayyip Erdogan is one of the champions of this kind of polarisations.

The tendency towards reaction in bourgeois politics is manifested in the increase in number of this kind of politicians and the enormous degeneration in the arena of bourgeois politics. Now it would not be an exaggeration to say that the club of the rich not only runs the economy in a monopolistic way but also the politics. What Marxist leaders once noted as tendencies in their analyses of finance-capital are now bitter accomplished facts before our eyes. Set aside the astonishing rotting in the example of Turkey recently, political expectations of the working masses in all capitalist countries are narrowed into strives among bourgeois cliques. This situation carries social decadence and desperation to unbearable heights. While the bourgeois order and bourgeois politics promise no positive prospect of future to the masses, the oppressed and exploited millions are alienated to the realities of their own lives. Yet it is unacceptable that the working masses are divided on the basis of bourgeois parties’ conflicts of interest. The bourgeois order and its political parties can be no remedy to the problems of the working masses. For all who stand for a solution to the problems of the oppressed and exploited should materialise their intention in the effort to go beyond the politics confined to the parties of bourgeois order. All kinds of elections, be it local, general, parliament, presidency etc., should be utilised to present alternatives outside the parties of bourgeois order. The working-masses should be armed with political consciousness on the basis of the realities that make their lives unbearable.

Long ago Marxism pointed to the fact that as capitalism advances towards its own end the rich/poor polarisation would go incredibly deeper. What is being experienced nowadays are like signs of capitalist apocalypse. As Marx and Engels once noted, while enormous wealth concentrates on the one pole in the hands of a small minority dwindling in number, billions of people on the other pole are drawn into the whirlpool of a deepening poverty. To put this reality into the language of numbers, according to the 2014 data, while the super rich nearly have a wealth worth the wealth of three in four of 7 billion people, more than 1 billion people are struggling to live on less than 1 dollar a day. More than 3 billion people, representing nearly the half of the total population of the world, are in a plight to live on less than 2.5 dollars a day. In its course of development capitalism undermines middle layers once praised by liberal economists and called as “the middle class”, “the middle column”. In accordance with this even in American society pink dreams about the future of capitalism fade away. Polls show that 74% of the American people, who are known for their optimism for capitalist order, are in the opinion that their situation in general is getting worse. Now think of the rest if this is the situation of “wealthy” America which is the leading force of capitalist system…

The decadence of capitalist system and its dilapidated situation giving no hope to new generations of humanity is out there to see. The course of capitalism is irrational in terms of the development and well-being of human society. While productive forces that are to satisfy human needs are being squandered, money movements that can only swell the profits of a handful of moneybags, speculation that enriches rich elites, swindling and most importantly militarism are on the rise. From those politicians whose true faces have been exposed by corruption scandals through intelligence and security forces that have turned into mercenaries of finance-capital to the deepened conflicts in the bourgeois heights based on interests, the bourgeois order has now turned right into a quagmire from the standpoint of the working masses. Moreover, in its profound crisis capitalism has lost the capability of social improvements that can lull the masses to some extent. On the contrary, it attacks the social gains of the masses and social funds in a most greedy way.

Attacks against the rights of the working masses are not limited to economic sphere, but bourgeois states step up police violence against mass demonstrations, workers’ strikes even in the USA or European countries. So much so that, even the former U.S. national security expert Edward Snowden in his revelations pointed out that infrastructure of a global totalitarian police state was being built. In present day world, the bourgeois rulers are left with no other choice than reinforcing instruments of repression and setting them on the masses in order to keep them under control. In fact, the political order of capitalism which outlived its life is in an impasse, inspiring no hope of a better future than today. As its system crisis deepens the capitalist tyranny gets more brutal. These developments on a world scale happen in full swing in Turkey under Erdogan’s rule.

If we go deeper into the matter, the situation in the world and Turkey indicates that it has become a horrible mindlessness to expect anything from the bourgeois order and bourgeois politicians and save the day. To avoid from this mindlessness, the working masses need to mount their organisation and struggle and not let themselves be misled by promises and lies of the bourgeois parties, not expect anything from the opposition bourgeois politician against the ruling bourgeois politician. In all capitalist countries, and surely in Turkey as well, the masses will unfortunately continue to expect from the forces of bourgeois order unless revolutionary class struggle is organised. Unless the circle locking politics into the limits of the bourgeois order is broken, in Turkey or elsewhere, no matter how many elections are held, no matter who sits in the chair of presidency or of         Patriarch, the winning side will be, in the final analysis, the club of the rich, the plutocracy.

Workers’ democracy

During the social struggles that accompanied the capitalist development of the world in the 19th and 20th centuries, the most commonly voiced demand of the masses was democracy. As the old monarchies were faced with waves of uprisings, demand for democracy was finding its embodiment in the establishment of bourgeois democratic regimes. But, as capitalism expanded all over the world, along with establishment of bourgeois rule in various countries, it came to light that, after all, bourgeois democracy was one of the forms of the bourgeois rule, as it by no means put an end to oppression and exploitation of the working masses. In Russia, where the bourgeoisie was incompetent to establish a democratic regime, the revolutionary working class undertook the struggle for democracy. After the pre-experience of Paris Commune, the Great October Revolution of 1917 gave the world the first example of workers’ democracy. With such a historical experience, minimum and maximum programme of the struggle of the revolutionary working class for democracy surpassed programmatic documents and was materialised in practice.

If we express it in light of the revolutionary theory and practice that guide the revolutionary struggle of the working class, the proletariat has a much deeper and historically progressive goal for democracy compared to all other classes and strata. For the working class, struggle for democracy covers an extensive content, ranging from defence of basic rights such as freedom of speech, belief and association against the bourgeois rule to the establishment of workers’ democracy that will bring liberation from capitalist exploitation. The fact that what the word democracy suggests in public mind is only the bourgeois democracy despite the experiences of Paris Commune and the October Revolution is a great distortion engrafted by bourgeois ideologues over the years. Having a limited scope under capitalism since it is based on the rule of a minority, democracy can reach its most extensive form only under workers’ power.

The Marxist attitude towards democracy also draws a demarcation line with some allegedly leftist political approaches regarding this matter that are completely wrong in essence. Reformist socialists, who see the struggle for democracy as a fight for an expanded bourgeois democracy, can be recalled here as an example. The Stalinist conception of revolution in stages must be remembered, too, which seeks to interrupt the struggle of the working class for power for the sake of a “democratic stage” and thus avoid carrying forward the struggle of the masses for democracy to setting up a workers’ democracy. In addition to these, denialism towards democracy is another tendency that is displayed in the name of taking an ostensibly more radical stance and of surpassing bourgeois democratic framework in the struggle for power. Defenders of this approach put forward the idea that democracy can no longer be a part of the programmatic demands of the working class. Yet, with such a shallow imagination that does not go beyond bourgeois democracy when it comes to democracy, such political conceptions, in fact, deny the goal of a workers’ power and workers’ democracy.

Past experiences from different countries show that revolutionary struggle of the working class has been damaged by those tendencies that fail to understand the dialectic between revolution and democracy in a correct way, and that can generally be named as infantile disorder of left. Setting aside the revolutionary groups that have become mature enough to overcome such infant disorders over time, the main problem arises from petty-bourgeois lefts which, despite having left “infancy” far behind, are still stuck in the blind alley of left verbalism because of their petty-bourgeois revolutionary character. Such political groups either totally deny the necessity of utilising the parliamentary rostrum in a revolutionary way or reject the need for participating union activities on the ground that unions are reactionary. Yet, revolutionary struggle of the working class amounts to nothing but standing by even the simplest-looking democratic demands of the working masses and carrying the struggle from this starting point to the formation of a workers’ power and a workers’ democracy.

It is obvious that the opposition of the working masses against capitalism cannot rise to the level of an anti-capitalist revolution as long as the struggle of the working class for democracy is underestimated upon this or that excuse however revolutionary it might seem. Moreover, should the demand for democracy not accompany the revolutionary struggle of working class for power, the workers’ power would unduly be envisaged by the broad masses as a dictatorship without democracy. By all measures, all these approaches are wrong. In fact, the revolutionary working class is the only force that can put democracy into practice without deceptions and in the most extensive way. And the only way of reaching such a goal is the establishment of a revolutionary workers’ rule which is supported by the broad toiling masses. In this regard, the substance of Lenin’s remark that “a working class that has not been educated in the school of democracy cannot reach socialism” is not limited to concrete conditions of tsarist Russia, but still maintains its validity to the greatest extent.

Embodiment of the school of democracy, in which the working class will be educated, starts from the struggle for advocating and implanting a democratic functioning in different workers’ organisations that constitute the means of working class struggle under capitalism. In all workers’ organisations, from trade unions to the party of the working class and soviet-type bodies, revolutionary Marxists aim at establishing a real democratic operation that does not remain in words or form like in the bourgeois conception of democracy, but that is enriched by the proletarian conception of democracy in its content. They wage a consistent and determined struggle for this. On the other hand, the working class can advance only through including the struggle for all democratic demands concerning the working and toiling masses in its revolutionary struggle. Beyond all these, in order that the historical mission of the working class can be realised and the classless society, i.e. socialism, can be reached, the period of workers’ rule must be a period of workers’ democracy.

The period of workers’ democracy will be the period of the most extensive, massive and real democracy in the history of humanity. Thus, after various stages, scopes and forms throughout the social life of humanity from past to present, democracy will reach its highest and final stage. Let us remember that democracy had been a privilege of an aristocratic estate in Roman Empire and in capitalist society it came to include some democratic rights of the masses. However, as the capitalist mode of production aged and capitalism entered an age of decay historically, the scope of bourgeois democracy concerning the working masses tended to shrink. Democracy began to decay and rot under capitalism, just as the social order to which it belongs. It increasingly tended to be displaced by plutocracy. In fact, it has been a long time that the turn of workers’ democracy has come. And it is the workers’ democracy that will lead the human society from plutocracy to democracy. So, workers’ democracy shines with its key feature in the course of history: to raise democracy to its highest level ever in content and extent.

Workers’ democracy is a real democracy which will enable the masses to determine their own fate in social life. It is a participatory and direct democracy of the masses who organise themselves into communes. Unlike bourgeois parliamentary governments, in the period of workers’ power communes will hold the power, no matter who is elected to this or that general or local organ. In workers’ democracy, the right to elect, appoint and recall will completely belong to communes, whereas in bourgeois democracy, elections are based on choosing one of the candidates imposed by bourgeois rulers in the final analysis. Since the experience of the Paris Commune, some of the key elements of workers’ democracy have been the limitation of officials’ salaries to the average worker’s wages and the right of workers to recall and replace the elected officials when necessary.

With such characteristics, workers’ democracy is obviously far more democratic than bourgeois democracy. It owes its virtue to the social character of the working class and to the difference of the historical role of the working class from that of the bourgeoisie. Briefly stated, the self-interest of the bourgeoisie is the continuation of capitalist rule of exploitation which threatens the future of humanity, whereas that of the working class lays in the overthrow of capitalism and in the transition to classless society. Constituting the exploitative minority of society, the bourgeoisie has imposed its self-interest, i.e. the continuation of capitalist exploitation, on society as “common interest” by using the bourgeois state apparatus. This, in the full sense of the word, is an imposition. Therefore, all bourgeois regimes, even the most democratic-looking bourgeois governments, are the means of repressing and suppressing working class and toilers. In this respect, in all its forms, the bourgeois order is, in essence, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. It is the dominance of an exploitative and privileged minority over the majority. Yet, workers’ democracy will ensure the liberation of this majority from all kinds of social oppression and exploitation. Thus, democracy will reach its massive and real dimensions.

Then, isn’t it obvious? The struggle to be waged by the working class and the toiling masses for their democratic rights in capitalist society is of crucial importance and cannot be neglected. But beyond this minimum goal of struggle, those who want the emancipation of humanity and a real democracy in today’s world, must desire and fight for the revolution that will overthrow capitalism. Nothing but the rule of the revolutionary working class and the workers’ democracy can lead workers and toilers to a prosperous and happy future!