Representative democracy

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Representative democracy (or bourgeois democracy) is the type of democracy usually adhered to in capitalist nations.[1] Parliamentary democracy removes the actual decision-making process from the public sphere and instead, each person is given a vote as to who they think should be the authoritive ruler. It is however a greatly flawed system under capitalism for several reasons. Firstly, the most rich and powerful power contestants generally have most access to the mass media which creates a biased pedestal in the sphere of public election debate. Secondly, since capitalist economies generally advocate small government and greater involvement by the private sector then governments are for the most part unnaccountable for the industries and services which generally effect voters' lives anyway.

Presidential system

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United States

According to Christopher Hitchens, speaking when he was a leftist, the “essence of American politics” is “the manipulation of populism by elitism.”[2]

Parliamentary system

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Issues and criticism

Lacking direct democracy

Representative democracy does do not directly respect the will of lay citizens except when citizens elect representatives. Given this that a small number of elected representatives make decisions and policies about how a nation is governed, the laws that govern the lives of its citizens, and so on. Thus, some argue that representative democracy is merely a decoration over an oligarchy; political theorist Robert A. Dahl has described liberal democracies as polyarchies. For these reasons and others, opponents support other, more direct forms of governance such as direct democracy.

Many democracies have elements of direct democracy such as referendums, plebiscite, and models of "Deliberative democracy". For example, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has recently allowed referendums on important aspects of the government.

Dictatorship of the bourgeoisie

Some Marxists, socialists and anarchists, argue that representative democracy, under capitalist ideology, is constitutively class-based and therefore can never be democratic or participatory. It is bourgeois democracy because ultimately politicians fight only for the rights of the bourgeoisie. According to Marx, representation of the interests of different classes is proportional to the influence which the economic clout that a particular class can purchase (through bribes, transmission of propaganda, economic blackmail, campaign 'donations', etc.). 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 capitalist ideology are always distorted and anti-democratic, their operation merely furthering the class interests of the owners of the means of production. According to Marx the bourgeois class becomes wealthy through a drive to appropriate the surplus-value of the creative labours of the working class. This drive obliges the bourgeois class to amass ever-larger fortunes by increasing the proportion of surplus-value by exploitating the working class through capping workers' terms and conditions as close to poverty levels as possible. (Incidentally, this obligation demonstrates the clear limit to bourgeois freedom, even for the bourgeoisie itself.) Thus, 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. bailing out Wall St investment banks; 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.[3]

The cost of political campaigning in representative democracies favors the rich, a form of plutocracy where only a very small number of individuals can actually affect government policy. 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[4] and described elections as oligarchic.[5]

Representative democracy has also been criticized by some socialists as a dishonest farce used to keep the masses from realizing that their will is irrelevant in the political process, while at the same time a conspiracy for making them restless for some political agenda. Some contend that it encourages candidates to make deals with wealthy supporters, offering favorable legislation if the candidate is elected—perpetuating conspiracies for monopolization of key areas.


  1. Capitalism Magazine
  2. "Obama’s Sinister Silence in the Year of the Protestor"] commentary by Paul Street in Zspace, December 21, 2011, accessed December 26, 2011, not the original source, nor is this:Against the Manipulation of Populism by Elitism" article, by Paul Street, October 15, 2011, Znet
  3. Karl Marx. The civil war in France
  4. Aristotle, Politics 2.1273b
  5. Aristotle, Politics 4.1294b

External links and further reading