Line of March Vol. 1, No. 3, October-November 1980.
The great spectacular of bourgeois politics–the quadrennial ritual of the ballot box by which U.S. imperialism’s chief executive is designated–is at this moment approaching its grand finale.
For almost a year the attention of the masses has been directed toward the reassuringly familiar stage business of a presidential election, the very terminology of which (trial balloons, dark horses, hats in the ring, balanced tickets, running-mates, etc.) is strongly suggestive of its obligations to the work of circuses. Faithful to the scripts of yesteryear, the 1980 election is playing out its appointed hour upon the stage with a reenactment of those time-honored rites which serve to impart an image of stability and historical continuity to the rule of U.S. capital.
It is not mere poetic license which has led the bourgeoisie’s own commentators to describe this process as a pageant. That is the essence of this ballet which begins with the endless rounds of declared and undeclared candidacies, continues with the sweep of the nominating primaries played out against shifting backdrops which range from the snows of New Hampshire to the ghettoes of Chicago, reaches a crescendo with the three-ring circuses called political conventions, and concludes with the high drama of public counting of ballots on the nation’s television screens.
What is the purpose of this elaborate extravaganza? Marxists have long noted that insofar as its stated purpose is concerned–determining the question of political power in modern society–it is no more than a charade, a political sleight of hand in which the more things seem to change, the more do they remain the same. But Marxists do not deserve any special credit for making such an observation. One hardly has to be a Marxist to grasp the fact that bourgeois elections do not, in any way, impinge upon or alter questions of power. The general cynicism among the masses toward politics and politicians–a cynicism which runs far deeper than can be measured solely by noting the large numbers of people who do not bother to vote in elections–is itself proof that the futility and corruption of bourgeois politics has become a part of U.S. folklore.
But because bourgeois elections are a charade and do not alter the fundamental relations of power and property does not at all signify that they are without meaning or political significance. And those among the communists who content themselves with merely denouncing the bourgeoisie’s electoral process without undertaking to explain the actual political content of each election can hardly be said to be offering vanguard leadership to the working class.