Dictatorship of the bourgeoisie

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The following example from the 2013 Leadership Convention of the Liberal Party of Ontario, one of the two largest parties in that Canadian province, illustrates one of the system's mechanisms. At the convention, delegates from the various ridings (electoral districts) of the province elect the party leader by majority vote. A democratic process, it would seem. However, as reported in the Ottawa Citizen of Jan. 25th that year: "To actually cast a ballot for one candidate or another, prospective delegates have to register and pay a fee of $599. (Those who registered online before Jan. 18 paid $499.) Party prersident Yasir Naqvi says that while delegates, including ex-officio members, are responsible for their fees, riding associations and leadership candidates can choose to pay on their behalf."[1] [Communpedia's emphasis] What takes place is the preselection, by a moneyed elite, of the candidates for whom the public will later have the opportunity to vote. (The choice of the roughly 2000 delegates at this particular affair was Kathleen Wynne. Under the Canadian system she, as party leader, automatically becomes Premier (equivalent to a US state governor) if her party holds the most seats in the provincial legislature. Since the Liberals at that time had the most seats in the legislature (the leadership position had become vacant by resignation of the standing Premier, Dalton McGuinty), Wynne became Premier of Ontario. Had her party not been in power, she would have become premier if they had won the next general election.)

According to Marx, representation of the interests of different classes is proportional to the influence which the economic clout of a particular class can purchase. Thus, the public interest, in so-called liberal democracies, is systematically corrupted by the wealth of those classes rich enough to gain (the appearance of) representation. Because of this, multi-party democracies under capitalism are always distorted and anti-democratic, their operation merely furthering the class interests of the owners of the means of production. According to Marx, parliamentary elections are no more than a cynical, systemic attempt to deceive the people by permitting them, every now and again, to endorse one or other of the bourgeoisie's pre-determined choices of which political party can best advocate the interests of capital. Once elected, this parliament, as a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, enacts regulations that actively support the interests of its true constituency, the bourgeoisie (e.g. 2008 bailing out of Wall St investment banks in US; direct socialisation/subsidisation of business - GMH, US/European agricultural subsidies; and even wars to guarantee trade in commodities such as oil). In short, popular elections are nothing but the appearance of having the power of decision of who among the ruling classes will misrepresent the people in parliament.[2]

A system in which a small minority, consisting of rich individuals, actually determine government policy is called a plutocracy. In Athenian democracy, some public offices were randomly allocated to citizens, in order to inhibit the effects of plutocracy. Aristotle described the law courts in Athens which were selected by lot as democratic[3] and described elections as oligarchic.[4]

Some contend that representative democracy encourages candidates to make deals with wealthy supporters, offering favorable legislation if the candidate is elected — perpetuating conspiracies for monopolization of key areas.

In the following passage, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza describes the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie phenomenon in terms of the complex of hierarchical, exploitive, and opprerssive relations she terms the `kyriarchy'. She then contrasts this with her vision of the truly free condition to be striven for.

In the last centuries, emancipatory struggles for equal rights as citizens have achieved national independence, voting and civil rights for all adult citizens. Yet, these movements have not been able to overcome the kyriarchal stratifications that continue to determine modern constitutional democracies. They were only able to create liberal democratic forms that simply made the democratic circle coextensive with the kyriarchal pyramid, thereby reinscribing the contradiction between democratic vision and political kyriarchal practice. In turn, liberal theorists of democracy have sought to reconcile this contradiction through procedures such as periodic voting, majority rule, representation and procedural resolution of conflicts. In the process, democratic liberty is construed merely as the absence of coercion and democratic process is reduced to the spectacle of election campaigns.

Radical democracy ... insists on the literal understanding of democracy as decision making of and by the people. It distinguishes itself from other forms of democracy by the conviction that such “people democracy” is actually realizable. It envisions equal opportunities for all to take part in decision making in matters affecting not only the political realm but also the workplace, the religious and political community, and interpersonal relations. It encourages people to take control over the course of their lives and supports structural arrangements that encourage citizens to exercise self-determination, to respect the rights of others, to take part in debates about the “common good,” and to create new institutions that are truly participatory and egalitarian....

Grassroots movements are the embodiment of such ongoing democratization processes....

In order to name such an alternative emancipatory spiritual process, and theoretical space, in radical democratic terms, I have coined the oxymoron “ekklesia of wo/men.” ...

Within the context of worldwide social movements for change, one can theorize the ekklesia of wo/men not only as a virtual, utopian space but also as an already partially realized space of radical equality and as a site of feminist struggles for transforming societal and religious institutions. – Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza


  1. Mohammad Adam, "After round one, all bets are off in Liberal race," Citizen, Friday, Jan 25, 2013.
  2. Karl Marx. The civil war in France
  3. Aristotle, Politics 2.1273b
  4. Aristotle, Politics 4.1294b

External links and further reading

  • Elisabeth Schlüsser Fiorenza, `A Critical Feminist Spirituality of Struggle', womenuct.com