Planetary Agent X and False Democracy

At first, the survey of political systems in Mack Reynolds‘ interstellar spy novel, Planetary Agent X, seems quite whimisical and superficial.  There are planets full of anarchists, and planets crawling with feudalism, nihilism, socialism, and what have you.   There are some playful jabs at democracy, individualism, and even the tyranny of the uninformed voters (a la John Stuart Mill).  The tone is not as playful as Ron Goulart, but definitely not very serious either.   So it came as a pleasant surprise when the protagonist, Ronny Bronston, is given a sarcastic lecture by his handler, the mysterious Tog Lee Chang Chu, on the disasters brought about by “industrial feudalism.”   How strangely familiar!

“Oh, I don’t know,” Tog mused. “I don’t have much regard  for Industrial Feudalism, myself. It starts off with a bang, but tends to go sterile.”

“Industrial  feudalism,” he said indignantly.  “What do you mean? The government is a constitutional monarchy with the king merely a  powerless  symbol.  The  standard of  living  is  high.  Elections are honest and democratic.  They’ve got a three-party system…”

“Which is largely phony,” Tog interrupted. “You’ve got to do some reading between the lines, especially when the books you’re reading are turned out  by the industrial  feudalistic publishing companies in Avalon.”

“What’s this industrial  feudalism you keep talking about? Avalon has a system of free enterprise.”

“A gobbledygook term,” Tog said. “Industrial feudalism is a  socio-economic system that develops when industrial  wealth is concentrated into the hands of a comparatively few families. It  finally gets to the point of a closed circle all  but impossible to break  into.  These  industrial  feudalistic  families  become  so powerful that only in rare instances can anyone lift himself into their society.  They dominate every field,  including the so-called labor unions, which amount to one of the biggest businesses of all.  With their unlimited resources they even own every means of  dispensing information.

“You mean,” Ronny argued, “that on Avalon you can’t start up a newspaper of your own and say whatever you wish?”

“Certainly you can, theoretically. If you have the resources.  Unfortunately, such enterprises become increasingly expensive to  start. Or you could start a radio, TV or Tri-D station—if you had  the resources. However, even if you overcame all your handicaps  and your newspaper or broadcasting station became a success, the  industrial feudalistic families in control of Avalon’s publishing and  broadcasting fields have the endless resources to buy you out, or  squeeze you out, by one nasty means or another.”

Ronny snorted. “Well, the people must be satisfied or they’d  vote some fundamental changes.”

Tog  nodded.  “They’re  satisfied,  and  no  wonder.  Since  childhood every means of forming their opinions has been in the  hands of industrial feudalistic families—including the schools.”

“You mean the schools are private?”

“No, they don’t have to be. The government is completely  dominated by the fifty or  so families  which for  all  practical  purposes own Avalon.  That includes the schools.  Some of the  higher institutions of learning are private, but they, too, are largely  dependent upon grants from the families.”

Ronny was irritated by her know it all air. He tapped the book  he’d  been  reading  with  a  finger.  “They  don’t  control  the  government.  Avalon’s  got  a three-party system.  Any time the  people don’t like the government, they can vote in an alternative.”

That’s an optical illusion.  There are three parties, but each is  dominated by the fifty families, and election laws are such that for  all  practical  purposes  it’s  impossible  to start  another  party. Theoretically it’s possible; actually it isn’t. The voters can vary back  and forth between the three political parties but it doesn’t make any  difference which one they elect.  They all  stand for  the same thing—a continuation of the status quo.

“Then you claim it isn’t democracy at all?”

Tog sighed.  “That’s a much abused word.  Actually,  pure  democracy is seldom seen…”

Yes, Reynolds wrote this in 1961.  Not much has changed, has it?  Depressing, but true.   Now where is Tom Paine when you need him?   Because we are in desperate need of real change…  Not the warmed over bullshit that Obama is feeding us.   Rendition…stays.   Preventive Detention…stays.   Habeaus corpus...still dead.   Prosecutions for torturers…dead in the water.   What kind of change is this?? Nothing more than the illusions pumped up by industrial feudalism, apparently.