Rights and Government for Whom?

October 21, 2012

These days, even as the government is carrying out a broad-scale offensive against the American people, the politicians – Republicans and Democrats alike – never stop repeating such catch phrases as "getting government off the people's backs" and boasting of their commitment to "individual liberty" and the "sovereignty of the individual." Exposing the basis of these slogans is a necessary part not only of the immediate fight against the capitalist offensive but also in order to get at the root of things and open the perspective for the progress and renewal of our country.

The ideology of "individual liberty" and the "sovereignty of the individual," as espoused today by the Republican and Democratic party politicians is based on the political theory first enunciated by representatives of the capitalist class in the 17th century. According to this theory the state arises to protect civil society based on private property in the means of production. Such a state must guarantee the so-called "natural rights of man" (the most "natural" and fundamental "right" being to acquire and accumulate property) by treating all individuals as "equal before the law" and safeguarding various "civil liberties," i.e. the rights of individuals to participate freely in civil society. In other words, the concept of "individual liberty" actually translates into the right of the individual owners of property to accumulate more property and the idea of the "sovereignty of the individual" means the sovereignty of the individual owners of private property in the means of production, e.g. the capitalist class. The function of government – the state – is to insure that nothing interferes with either the liberty or sovereignty of the capitalists to conduct business as they see fit.

In fact, at the time of the founding of the American Republic in 1787, only male property-owners were considered part of the polity. It was never even imagined that those who did not own property – such as the indigenous peoples, the African slaves, women or a large percentage of the laboring classes – should enjoy "individual liberty" or participate in governance. Today, of course, the capitalist state has been forced, under the impact of the democratic movement of the people, to extend various civil liberties to the masses of the people. But the rights of private property in the means of production still remain as the very foundation of the political superstructure. As they have done for the last 300 years, today's ideologues of capitalism want to hide the fact that under capitalism the "individual liberties" and "freedoms" of the private owners of the means of production are predicated on the denial of the rights and freedom of the vast majority of the population.

Capitalism is a system in which the social property (including the tools and natural resources) created by the whole society over many generations are owned by a small number of private individuals. The capitalists, by monopolizing the very means required by the majority in order to secure their livelihood, are able to grab hold of fabulous riches by exploiting the labor of the workers. The workers, on the other hand, have no choice but to sell themselves, day in and day out, to the capitalist owners. Thus freedom for the capitalists to monopolize the means of production and exploit labor rests on the fact that the vast majority of the population have been reduced to the level of wage-slaves. Furthermore, the inherent and insatiable drive of capital to maximize profit places it in irreconcilable opposition to the needs and requirements of society as a whole. Attempts by society as a whole to protect the natural environment or guarantee workers a safe work environment, the struggle of the workers to restrict the "right" of the capitalists to hire and fire at will or increase exploitation to the maximum – all these things, are looked upon by the capitalist as just so many infringements on his/her "individual liberty" – on the sanctity of the rights of property. Thus when today's politicians insist that everyone must fend for herself/himself in the so-called "free market system," they are saying that society and the state only recognizes the "rights" of private property and that the people have no human rights which they can claim simply on the basis of their humanity.

The question that must be asked is: freedom and rights for whom? Is the capitalist to have unlimited right to exploit or does the working class have the right to live free of capitalist exploitation? Does society as a whole and the vast majority of its individual members have the right to a healthy environment or does the freedom of the capitalist to dispose of his property as he sees fit give him/her the right to poison the air we breath and the water we drink?

As for the catch phrase of "getting government off the people's backs," this is only further demagogy on the part of the Republican and Democratic Parties. As we said above, the present-day state arose to protect a civil society based on private ownership of the means of production – that is to protect the class domination of the capitalists and enforce the system of wage-slavery on the workers. And it is precisely this capitalist state which over the last 200 years has grown to gigantic proportions. It is also precisely this capitalist state – a state which protects the "free market system" and "enhances U.S. capitalism's global competitiveness" which the Republicans and Democrats are sworn to defend.

When these politicians rail against "big government," they are only demanding the abolition of the few regulations which big business is asked to comply with and the elimination of the few entitlement programs which the working people, through decades of struggle, have forced the state to recognize. Yet the politicians are not cutting back but rather enlarging the gargantuan military machine as well as the police forces. Yet more, in this era of monopoly capitalism, the politicians all agree that the state must play a direct and primary role in guarantying and increasing the profits of the biggest capitalists. While social programs providing a minimum of support for the workers are slashed, trillions of dollars in public monies are given to the capitalists in the form of interest payments, research and development grants, tax loopholes, lucrative contracts, etc. The privatization schemes, so much in vogue with today's politicians, are nothing but plans for turning even more public monies, as well as the national infrastructure and natural patrimony, over to the big monopolists.

Today's huge bureaucratic state, which accounts for 1/3 of the country's economy and which imposes the immense burden of militarism on the people, is more and more devouring society precisely because it is an organ of the capitalist class – an instrument protecting the special interests and privileges of the capitalists in opposition to the needs and interests of society as a whole. And it is precisely this primary function of the capitalist state – to protect private property in the means of the production – which the Republicans and Democrats want to perfect.

No, the problems facing the American people will not be solved by enhancing the "individual liberty" of the capitalist owners nor by strengthening the parasitic state which protects this system of capitalist wage-slavery. On the contrary, the problem is precisely to create a society which takes as its starting point guarantying the human rights of the broad masses of people. This requires creating a new political power which advances the general interests of society as a whole, as well as each of its individual members, and which returns sovereignty to the people themselves. These rights can be realized and this new power created only through unremitting struggle against the "rights" of private property in the means of production and against the capitalist state.