Bernie Sanders was right that the system is rigged. But he did not go far enough. The problem is not simply that pro-establishment politicians are stealing the vote or organizing the elections in a way that gives them an advantage.
Capitalist democracy is paper thin. The unemployed have a right to vote every two or four years but they do not have a right to a job. Likewise, people who are homeless have a right to vote, but they do not have a right to a home. In America, one out of every two people lives either in or near poverty, according to official statistics. The poor have a right to vote for candidates who are mostly all rich, but they do not have a right to live outside of poverty.
This is the message of the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s presidential candidate Gloria La Riva, as she explained to the Peace and Freedom Party convention in California. La Riva won the PFP nomination over Jill Stein (Green Party), Monica Moorehead (Workers World Party) and other third-party candidates, and her socialist campaign is on the ballot in eight other states as well. She is the only worker, only person of color and only socialist on the California presidential ballot.
Socialism means not only the political rights to participate in elections, but guaranteeing the social rights to have a job, free health care and child care, free education, including at the college level, and the guaranteed right to affordable housing.
All of this—and more—can easily be provided once the vast wealth that has been hoarded by a tiny clique, from slavery to present-day imperialism, is finally liberated and returned to those who created it over generations. That same clique maintains a vice grip over political and economic decision-making: what gets produced, who gets how much, and how technology is used.
Capitalism is like a pyramid. The broad mass of the population constitutes the base of society. The ultra-rich capitalist owners live at the very top. The goal of socialism is to turn the pyramid upside down, so that the broadest part of the population, the majority, the people who survive through their own work, are finally at the top. The pyramid itself would come down.
That is real democracy. Instead of the working class only having the right to vote for someone at the top of the pyramid, it would finally become a collective beneficiary of society’s wealth.
The Trumps, the Clintons, the individual bankers and corporate executives are not at the top of the pyramid because of their great work, intelligence, ingenuity or other personal attributes. They are just the latest individuals who enjoy the privileges, perks and power that belong exclusively to their social class. The system is rigged!
The capitalist bankers torpedoed the economy during what is known as the “Great Recession” of 2007-08. As a consequence, 23 million people lost their jobs, 9.3 million lost their health insurance, more than a million families were forced from their homes.
Not one banker went to jail. In fact, the capitalist politicians in Congress rewarded them with a $670 billion cash bailout. They got to use the money for themselves, no strings attached. In order to bail out capitalist investors, labor contracts were ripped up by the federal government and wages went down even further.
This is the same class of people who 20 years earlier, under the leadership of Bill Clinton, threw millions of poor people off of basic welfare. Clinton’s legislation left food stamps as the only form of aid generally available to able-bodied poor people, and it created new provisions that dramatically reduced that as well in the years since.
Meanwhile, the government, using the so-called free trade agreements, has allowed the capitalists to close factories in towns and cities across the United States and send those jobs elsewhere, where they could pay those workers even lower wages. The Trans-Pacific Partnership takes this scheme to a whole new level.
Impoverished communities in the United States, places that used to be thriving, are now the target of militarized racist policing, surveillance, and mass incarceration.
Between 1776 and 1976, the U.S. prison population grew to a point where a million people were incarcerated. But in the 20 years after 1976, the prison population doubled again so that more than 2 million people are incarcerated. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. The prisons are reserved for the working class and poor exclusively.
Society does not have to be this way. Socialists are fighting for real democracy. The poor should not simply have the right to vote for the candidates of the rich. The huge and vast wealth of this country must be made available and accessible to every person regardless of race, religion, creed or gender. That’s real democracy. That’s socialism.