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The Property-Requirement for Voting and Capitalism's Classic Conflict with Democracy

Why Democracy is Never Safe as Long as there is Private Ownership of Society's Productive Property.

By Punkerslut

Image: Photograph by antimony funk!, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 License

Start Date: August 18, 2011
Finish Date: August 19, 2011

Democracy in Politics, but Monarchy in Economics?

"... I can have no other notion of all the other governments that I see or know, than that they are a conspiracy of the rich, who on pretence of managing the public only pursue their private ends, and devise all the ways and arts they can find out; first, that they may, without danger, preserve all that they have so ill acquired, and then that they may engage the poor to toil and labor for them at as low rates as possible, and oppress them as much as they please."
          --Thomas More, 1516
          "Utopia," Book 2, Section: Of the Religions of the Utopians

     Private ownership of property is the greatest enemy of Democracy. But, these two terms deserve to be appropriately defined. Capitalism, or "Free Enterprise," is the system in which society's productive forces are owned by a very few. Mines, factories, and farms, all glistening with the tiny bodies that work them, are owned privately. This is the system of Capitalism.

     Democracy is more elusive, and for this reason, easier for politicians to manipulate. But, if it means anything to the people, it means the right for each person to have an equal voice in the society in which they participate. For some, this is compatible with the system of "representation," in which people choose others to have power over them. For others, it requires completely voluntary associations, in which no person is obliged to pass the law of any other except if they choose to obey it.

     These two systems of thought naturally represent opposite currents. Capitalism -- everything, the whole economy, shall be under the might and power of a very few, isolated from the vast majority, completely independent of them. The vast majority shall have the right to obey or starve. They must submit to the rules of their boss or supervisor without argument, without voting, without choice or option -- their choice is to obey, or to to starve to death. Capitalism is a monarchy of economics, with all of the pageantry and warped lies and cold-hearted rulers.

     Capitalist power becomes a hereditary power, too, as wealth passes from generation to generation. And so we have the well-known families that have controlled entire nations for centuries: from Roosevelt to Medici and from Carnegie to Rothschild. The strongest trends within Capitalism are that the child shall inherit the professional class of their parents. For all of these reasons, Capitalism is exclusive: it is a society where 95% or more of the people have absolutely no voice in the most important factor of their lives, their livelihood.

     Democracy represents the opposite trend. Capitalism excludes the majority, Democracy includes it. The Capitalist trend is to isolate power, decision-making, and authority within the hands of a very few, the monarchs of industry. The Democratic trend is to decentralize power and decision-making, to make it more available to the common people who must put up with however society functions.

     These two ideas, Democracy and Capitalism, are incompatible in their substance. One tends to make the majority empowered, the other tends to make a very few empowered; one gives power to everyone, the other isolates it to just a handful. Democracy is always cannibalized by Capitalism. There is no human being who exists "just within the economy" or "just within society." Everyone has economic needs, as much as they have social needs; everyone must live through both realms of society's laws and economy's tyrants.

     Private ownership of the means of production is at odds with Inclusive Society -- the two cannot exist side-by-side. The history of the world should be enough to demonstrate this point.

Image: Photograph by Observe the Banana, CC BY-NC 2.0 License

Only Capitalists Can Vote -- Or Only Their Vote Counts

"Labor gains only now and then a direct advantage, a favourable legal enactment; but always an indirect one, the enlightenment of the masses as to the nature of society and the state."
          --Anton Pannekoek, 1908
          "The Labor Movement and Socialism"

     "The Property-Requirement of Voting." You need to own property, that is, landed property, if you want the right to vote. In the United States, the working class was not allowed to vote until the Civil War. [*1] This is a lesson often skipped in American school classes, because it would change the significance of the terms of oppression in the country.

     In Japan, the situation was the same, except it lasted until the Second World War. To quote W.G. Beasley, written from a Conservative point of view, "...the property requirement for suffrage remained in 1912 the payment of 15 yen a year in national taxes, despite several efforts to reduce or abolish it." [*2] Japanese historian Sen Katayama describes the same policy, writing from a radical Leftist point of view describes the same thing as Beasley, except in more detail...

"...in Japan, only the representatives of the capitalists have the right to vote. To-day, only those citizens who pay at least a tax of 3 yen per year have the right to vote. Of the 60 million inhabitants, only three million can vote. The sale and purchase of votes in Japan is carried on quite openly regardless of the stringent law. The candidate who pays out the most money has the greatest prospect of being elected. In this way the whole political system of Japan is interwoven with capitalist corruption." [*3]

     The history of Belgium is, again, identical. When strikes broke out in the 1880's, it was only the Socialists who agitated for universal suffrage, so that it would include all workers. Quoting Paul Lafargue, Karl Marx's son-in-law, concerning a strike for the worker's right to vote, "...the Belgian miners and glass workers, severely and brutally repressed, have re-entered their industrial galleys, and the most perfect calm would reign in that El Dorado of bourgeois liberalism, if the organised Socialists did not continue the agitation in transporting it to the ground of universal suffrage." [*4] A Conservative, Catholic historian, like Vernon Mallinson would put it in terms like this...

"Frère-Orban's government had reduced the franchise, [voting right] not extended it... In vain Frère-Orban urged that at this time universal suffrage could only lead to church domination of the people. In vain he tried to compromise by a new electoral law of 1883, giving the vote to certain recognised professions and to all those who had satisfactorily completed their [private] primary-school education." [*5]

     In Italy, the trend towards Authoritarianism went side-by-side with the trend towards aggressive Capitalism. It took almost two decodes for the dictator Mussolini to wrest power from the government. But Mussolini was never voted into office -- he was handed the government by the king of Italy himself, in what historians have called the March on Rome. He was able to use a few million votes for the Fascist party, against the Socialist Party's over ten-million count, to gain control of the government. And even then, these votes for the Fascist Party were hardly democratic in their substance. It took years and years of removing the right to vote for the workers. To quote an Italian journalist and Liberal...

"Although all three heads of the oligarchy who preceded the present regime made use and abuse of bribery and threats, especially in southern Italy, they always knew enough to keep within the bounds of general, not seriously contestable, legitimacy... but this time things have gone differently. Everyone knows how the elections were carried out. First of all, an electoral law was extorted with open threats from Parliament which codified the strength of the largest minority group. The law thus extorted made of this minority a sovereign republic, as is done in the Soviet Republic." [*6]

     The France to emerge after the Great French Revolution, the one where Napoleon would find his place in history, was likewise a government controlled solely by the Capitalist class. To quote François Victor Alphonse Aulard, reputed to be the First Historian of the French Revolution, "Democracy, however, was suppressed in 1795, by the constitution of the year III, or, if not suppressed, at least profoundly modified by a combination of universal suffrage and suffrage with a property qualification." [*7]

     You were probably taught in public school that the French Revolution was about Democracy and granting the right to vote to the common person. Lie. You were probably taught that the Liberals in Italy represented the strongest opposition to Mussolini's hi-jacking of the government in favor of Capitalists. Lie. But then again, public schools, by being government-controlled, are necessarily Capitalist-controlled.

     Finally, most popular lies of American textbooks are those concerning Tsarist Russia. It is often asserted that the "Kadets" were a Liberal Party, who wanted the vote for everyone. This is wrong: the Kadets were hard-line Monarchists who never criticized the tzar and always fought against the right to vote for workers. To quote the politically-moderate, Russian historian Nicholas V. Riasanovsky in regards to the Kadets' suffrage law...

"The peasant representation was cut by more than half and that of the workers was also drastically cut, whereas the gentry [feudal barons] gained representation quite out of proportion to its number. Also, Poland, the Caucasus, and some other border areas lost deputies; and the representation of Central Asia was entirely eliminated on the ground of backwardness. At the same time the election procedure became more indirect and more involved, following in part the Prussian model. In addition, the minister of the interior received the right to manipulate electoral districts. It has been calculated that the electoral change of June 1907 produced the following results: the vote of a landlord counted roughly as much as the votes of four members of the upper bourgeoisie, or of sixty-five average middle-class people, or of 260 peasants, or of 540 workers. To put it differently, 200,000 members of the landed gentry were assured of 50 per cent of the seats in the Duma [Parliament]." [*8]

     There's a reason why the lie was kept up that the Liberal Party of Russia wanted suffrage and the right to vote for everyone. It was the only serious opposition party to Socialists and Communists. To admit that the Liberal Party of Russia doesn't believe in the right to vote, in a meaningful Democratic sense, is to admit that there is no possibility for Democracy -- without Socialist Revolution.

     Oliver Cromwell today is remembered as someone who fought the British Monarchy in favor of those who believed in voting for representatives. But, again, we find the same type of exclusion as practiced elsewhere. All the way back in the middle of the 1650's, to quote David Hume, "The plan of Cromwell's parliament ought to be restored, by making the representation equal, and by allowing none to vote in the county elections who possesses not a property of 200 pounds value." [*9]

     This tradition continued for hundreds of years in Great Britain. Its opposition became known as Chartism, a working-class movement that sought to both expand the right to vote as well as to restrict the power of elected rulers. They were called the "Chartists" because they advocated a charter with six points, the third of which was, "No property qualification for members of Parliament—thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor." [*10]

     Another point of the charter point to the domination of government by Capitalism. Number four: "Payment of members, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country." To quote the Marxist August Thalheimer in regards to a General Strike on behalf of Chartism's ideal, "It is also during this period that the third franchise reform in Great Britain, that of 1885, took place through which a new electorate was created and the number of electors in rural districts was trebled. Through this reform a certain section of agricultural labourers was given the vote." [*11]

     Could it even be surprising to find the same practice being wildly popular in Ancient Rome? To quote Jean Jacques Rousseau from 1762, "It happened in addition that the town tribes, being more on the spot, were often the stronger in the comitia and sold the State to those who stooped to buy the votes of the rabble composing them...."

     Elsewhere, Rousseau wrote of the Ancient Roman government, "He [the Consul] therefore gave the people, by means of this assembly, all the authority of numbers to balance that of power and riches, which he left to the patricians [the rich]. But, after the spirit of monarchy, he left all the same a greater advantage to the patricians in the influence of their clients on the majority of votes." [*12] All of this history is perfectly summarized by the Council-Communist and Anti-Bolshevik Anton Pannekoek...

"...the majority in parliament will make laws according to our principles. But this beautiful idyll goes to smash the moment we take into account the restrictions upon suffrage which the bourgeois parties are in a position to put through so long as they are still in control of the majority. It goes without saying that the ruling class will not allow itself to be so easily discarded." [*13]

Image: Photograph by Observe the Banana, CC BY-NC 2.0 License

And What About Today's Voting Restrictions?

"The chief end of government has been and is to keep the victims of oppression and injustice in subjection."
          --Eugene V. Debs, 1908
          "Unionism and Socialism"

     Today in most developed nations, the largest group disenfranchised from voting include the young and the previously incarcerated. For the most part, property restrictions have been lifted -- for direct participation in government. However, new developments have come into play. Mass media, for instance, is large enough to deserve its title, the Fourth Branch of the Government.

     More than just the media, every single one of those countries that used to have property-requirements now has party-requirements. And, in order to get anywhere in the party, you need to have the funding. In the United States, it can cost thousands and thousands of dollars to run as a candidate for either of the two major parties, the Republicans or the Democrats. [*14] This isn't the fee to pay for campaigning costs and staff, but the fee that goes directly to the party's central headquarters, the way one would buy an office in the Middle Ages.

     Other social institutions, enjoying to keep their ill-gotten privileges, naturally support their foul neighbors, like a thicket in a swamp. The university system and the church are used to influence, direct, control, and manipulate public opinion. In competition with television crews and news stations, they still are able to deliver a believable message to ignorant masses. Keeping the majority out of the government was replaced with a system of fooling the majority -- or, at least, the system already implemented for fooling the masses was simply expanded.

     Party-rule, university-domination, church-control, and this deafening, blinding, all-pervasive media -- television, movies, radio, internet, etc., etc.. These are some of the things that can be used to create the same effect as a property-restriction upon property. They are all the tools of the undemocratic, authoritarian nightmare of isolating power into the hands of a very few. If Capitalism were to be destroyed, church and party could hardly exist, except if they were to attach themselves to new terms of exploitation.

     Only those who can threaten Capitalism are going to create Democracy. Given these centuries and centuries of history, only those who are willing to demolish private ownership of productive property are also going to be capable of establishing something resembling true Democracy. If there is one thing that stands between the individual and their right to have an equal voice in decision-making, is it not Capitalism? If there is something that keeps a human being from holding an equal right to everyone around them, is it not the domination of the state by the richest? If you genuinely believe in creating Democracy, then you can only genuinely believe in abolishing the Property-Rule of Capitalism.

"But, one might say, could the State, the democratic State, based upon the free suffrage of all its citizens, be the negation of their liberty? And why not? That would depend entirely on the mission and the power that the citizens surrendered to the State. A republican State, based upon universal suffrage, could be very despotic, more despotic even than the monarchical State, if, under the pretext of representing everybody's will, it were to bring down the weight of its collective power upon the will and the free movement of each of its members."
          --Mikhail Bakunin, Late 1800's
          "Rousseau's Theory of the State"



*1. "Voting in Early America," by Ed Crews, published by Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Spring 2007, History.org.
*2. "The Modern History of Japan," by W.G. Beasley, 1963, Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, New York, Washington, page 182, chapter 10: "The End of an Era: Annexation of Korea -- Political Society -- The Economy -- City Life -- Religion." Archive.org.
*3. "Foreign Policy of Japan," by Sen Katayama, The Communist, November 18, 1922, originally published by the Communist Party of Great Britain, Marxists.org.
*4. "The Decazeville Strike," by Paul Lafargue, From Commonweal, 12 June 1886, pages 85-86, Marxists.org.
*5. "Belgium," by Vernon Mallinson, 1969, published by Ernest Benn Limited, chapter 5: "Leopold II (1865-1909)," page 80.
*6. "Neither Liberty Nor Bread: The Meaning and Tragedy of Fascism," Edited by Frances Keene, Kennikat Press: Port Washington, New York/London, published by Harper & Row Publishers Inc., 1940, page 140, "Italian Culture Under Fascism," by Nicola Travi, from Quaderni di Giustizia e Liberta?, 1933.
*7. "The French Revolution: A Political History (1789-1804)," by François Victor Alphonse Aulard, published by Scribner, New York, 1910, Author's Preface, ReadingHall.org.
*8. "A History of Russia," by Nicholas V. Riasanovsky, Fourth Edition, New York, Oxford University Press, 1984, page 412, Chapter XXXI: "The Last Part of the Reign of Nicholas II: The Revolution of 1905 and the Constitutional Period, 1905-17," Section: "The Change in the Electoral Law and the Last Two Dumas."
*9. "Essays Moral, Political, and Literary," by David Hume, edited by Liberty Fund, 1777, Part II, Essay XVI: "Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth."
*10. "Six points of the People's Charter and the role of the London Working Men's Association," Source: Place MSS., 27,820, f. 374, July 1838. Cited in British Working Class Movements: Select Documents 1789-1875 edited by GDH Cole and AW Filson (Macmillan, 1951). Published on Chartists.net. Chartists.net.
*11. "The British General Strike - Its Place in History," by August Thalheimer, Source: The Communist International, No. 22, 1926, pages 42-58. Marxists.org.
*12. "The Social Contract, or the Principles of Right," by Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1762, Translated by G. D. H. Cole, Book 4, Chapter 4.
*13. "The Labor Movement and Socialism," by Anton Pannekoek, Source: International Socialist Review, July 1908, written for the Review, and translated by William E. Bohn. Marxists.org.
*14. "Colbert will run for president as a Democrat (Update!)," by JayBird, published by Celebitchy, November 1, 2007, Celebitchy.com.

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