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The Executive Power

February 12, 2013

Behind the democratic facade of the present system the real power is concentrated in the executive branch of government, including the vast bureaucratic machinery of the federal, state and local governments.

One of the cornerstones of the American political system is separation of the legislative function, the power to make laws, from the executive function, the power to implement laws and administer the state. The latter function is concentrated in the president and independent executive branch.

But the power to implement the law also necessarily implies the power to select and interpret the laws – that is, in the final analysis, to make the law. Thus, the “discretion” and “prerogative” of the executive branch inevitably places in its hands a power unrestrained by any law or even the Constitution itself. Countless historical and present-day examples can be given, of how this executive power acts as an arbitrary power in opposition to the interests of society as a whole, and is completely alienated from the people and even from the legislative bodies. The vast bureaucratic apparatus of the state, simply on the basis of its will and by means of executive decrees, exercises control over vast areas of social life. For example, the Federal Reserve Board, through its control over the money supply, interest rates and banking system, wields enormous power over the economic life of the country; the Interior Department controls the management and use of vast federal lands; the implementation of civil rights laws, laws regulating trade unions and workers’ rights, etc., remains in the hands of bureaucratic machinery, and so forth.

In addition to the power to interpret and implement law, the president and the executive branch of government retain “emergency powers” – the power to set aside the Constitution and the rule of law, including civil liberties. This “emergency power” is used to impose the will of the executive (and the class forces which he represents) through force of arms. The calling out of the National Guard in L.A. after the Rodney King verdict and the repeated use of presidential power to suspend strikes and union activities in the airline and railroad industries are but a few of thousands of examples of the use of the government’s “emergency power.” 

In the area of foreign affairs, including the power to wage war, constitutional law and historical practice have recognized the president as the “sole organ and representative” of the nation. The slogans of “national interest” and “national security” are used to justify conducting foreign policy in secret, waging undeclared wars, spying on and persecuting people who oppose the government’s policy, etc. Through these slogans, the interests of the whole society and the  entire people are equated with the interests and will of the president and the class forces which stand behind him. 

In sum it can be said that the legislative branch of government primarily serves only as a talk shop to lend an aura of legitimacy to the rule of the executive, which, in the manner of the kings of the feudal era, has usurped the supreme power.

A modern definition of democracy must carry through the struggle against the “divine power” of kings by overcoming the chasm between the legislative and executive functions of government, eliminating the arbitrary power of the executive and insuring that the entire political power is in the hands of the people themselves. The “residual power” (that power not explicitly defined by the Constitution) must be taken out of the hands of the executive and returned to the people.