by Francis Lee for the Saker Blog
During the late nineteenth century, the United States was the world’s most advanced capitalist country. According to orthodox (and I emphasise orthodox) Marxist theory this should have resulted in the rise of socialist movements. The development of capitalism and its internal contradictions was considered to eventually produce the situation and means that will bring about the termination of the capitalist order and establishment of socialism. Why, then, has there been no significant socialist movement in American history? Moreover, the defeat of proletarian revolutions in Central Europe (during the period 1919-1933) and the victory of fascism of the Mussolini and Hitler variety, thereafter, tended to repudiate the view that ‘advanced’ and ‘ objective’ political and economic conditions would bring about a destabilisation of capitalism according to traditional Marxist theory. Orthodox Marxists have been trying to get around this political conundrum for the last hundred years without much success. However, the same cannot be said of later versions of Marxism and its political impact elsewhere tell a different tale. See below – (1)
Consideration of this earlier political paradox was to give rise to a political analysis put forward by the German sociologist, Werner Sombart, who attempted to formulate a solution in his essay Why there is no socialism in the United States? First published in 1905. Sombart’s analysis is focused on a comparison of the United States with Germany, which had the largest and oldest socialist party (SPD) in Europe in the early 20th century this was, he argued, due to three factors: politics, economics, and the social environment. The core of Sombart’s argument is that all three of these combined to create circumstances in which it was extraordinarily difficult for socialist parties to emerge.
Firstly, it was the case in the Anglo-American world that it was extremely difficult (and still is) for any third party to emerge. This was the case in both the US and the UK and its offshoots in Canada/Australia/NZ. Like it or not – and I don’t – in the English-speaking world socialism has never become a political force to be reckoned with, particularly the USA.
Sombart made a lot of the fact that Americans had ‘the free gift of the vote’. In other words, there was no comparable struggle in America for the working class to gain the vote as there was in Europe. This rather begs the question and is not to say that there was no battle involving the US by socialists, anarchists, and the like, but given the absence of women, blacks and indigenous American peoples, the working class was fragmented. Moreover, this could be construed as early identity politics as many of the US population considered themselves to be Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, German-Americans, in short, hyphenated Americans. The working-class white men had the vote. (Women had to wait until after WW1, for this Promethean gift!)
According to Sombart the Anglo-American white working class was already integrated into the political system; but this was never really true since the sense that the outsider groups who were marginalised from class membership and power, is still the case today, in fact as a political and social phenomenon it is probably more pervasive than ever. In Europe, many working-class movements initially campaigned for basic political rights and systems of proportional representation emerged which resulted in coalition government, these were common enough in Europe and still are. In America, however, socialist party policies had been pre-empted on this issue; it was a heroic struggle by leaders such as Eugene Debs but like many left-wing movements it was bedeviled by the usual splits, schisms as well as infiltration and harassment by the police and various other agents provocateur, seldom reaching more than single percentage figures of votes cast in various elections. (2)
Another dimension of the oft-claimed ‘democratic’ character of the American state was also significant. It contributed to a naive belief in the possibility of ordinary individuals to influence political decision-making. To the extent that the American system worked, socialism became marginalised. Sombart’s economic argument was basically this: The American worker had no need to accept socialism since the American system delivered the goods. In Sombart’s summation: ‘’All socialist utopias come to grief with roast beef and apple pie.” The American worker had no need to adopt socialism since he had ample food on his table. Additionally, the American class-structure was fundamentally distinct from its European counterparts which had a political and cultural impact: Sombart argued that the United States had no feudal residues, it was from the beginning the bourgeois society par excellence. He further asserted that there was no essential difference between the working class and the bourgeoisie in America; the proletarian did not bow down before the aristocrat as in Europe. A sense of ‘rank’ was lacking. Furthermore, the absence of a feudal pecking order meant that class consciousness was virtually non-existent among the American working class. Thus, solidarity within the working class had a much less firm basis in America than it did in Europe. To use Marx’s phrase from the Eighteenth Brumaire, the American working class was perhaps a class in itself, but crucially not a class for itself. Meaning that it had an objective existence but lacked a subjective awareness of its social and political reality.
All of this may well have been true in Sombart’s time, but it is, to say the least, problematic at the present historical stage of development.
Thus the first thing to bear in mind with regard to Sombart’s analysis is the rise of an American lumpen-bourgeoisie of a type commonplace in the Global South, or as we used to call it the ‘Third World.’– a criminal/decadent entrenched overclass which now dominates American political, cultural, and economic life and the wherewithal to maintain this dispensation. Of course Sombart was not and could not be au fait with this development. At the present time this tiny ruling elite, or more accurately coalition of elites, is a quite ruthless, permanent stratum which could easily be placed alongside the ancient aristocracies and monarchies of Europe – The Hohenzollerns, the Windsor’s (who we are still unfortunately stuck with) the Hapsburgs, the Romanovs the Ottomans, and the Bourbons. In this sense the USA is just catching up – a fortiori – with European conventions and class structures.
Secondly, the United States is not just an imperialist power it is the imperialist power. Comparison with US imperialism and that of the European states is instructive. The British, French, Spanish and Portuguese were colonial powers, but it has been noted in this respect that these European colonisers were never as brutal and ruthless as the US whose rule (if rule is the right word) was more akin to the policies of Atilla the Hun than European colonialism. The US has never entertained any sense of colonial stewardship unlike the British in India who built railways, imparted the English language put up statues to Queen Victoria and so on and so forth. The French also imposed their culture, language, and politics on their colonial possessions in the Caribbean, Africa, and Indo-China. This is not to underestimate the fact that the goal of European colonial rule was basically about sucking the wealth out of their overseas possessions and imposing a harsh regime of exploitation – see George Orwell’s reporting during his time as a British official in India. (3) But the traditional European imperial policies of the 19th century pale in comparison to American high-tech imperialism where drone-strikes, mass murder, economic rape, and a penchant for turning nation states – Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen – into territories, were, and still are, regarded as being acceptable and normal provided US military deaths were minimal. Yet all of this passes without so much as the slightest criticism. What the British did in, Ireland, Kenya, South Africa, Egypt, and India, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was kid’s stuff when comparison is made with the great Atlantic mass terminator. (4) See below Albright in this respect. So much for external policy.
Back home on their side of the pond the rulers of the Republic have had a rude awakening as trouble has been brewing for some time ever since Trump had the temerity to stand for the Presidency. As is the case when crumbling empires, such as Athens and Sparta become aware that their rule is beginning to be contested, they would deploy the practices they honed and used in the empire back home to their imperial base. Such is the case with the ‘’United’’ (sic) States. In the unspeakable – ‘let them eat cake’- outburst by Madame Clinton, of course she used the term ‘deplorables’ seemingly unaware of its historical context. Simply make the obvious comparison with the ‘helots’ a state-owned serf of the ancient Spartans. The ethnic origin of helots is uncertain, but they were probably the original inhabitants of Laconia (the area around the Spartan capital) who were reduced to servility after the conquest of their land by the numerically fewer Dorians. After the Spartan conquest of Messenia in the 8th century BCE, the Messenians were also reduced to the status of helots. In an American situation the helots are the deplorables.
Given the entrenched nature of the political/economic and cultural cleavages in the Republic, conflict now seems inevitable. How this will play out seems moot but there is surely ‘’Something … rotten in the State of Denmark.’’ (5)
From a fixation with its external enemies in the communist bloc – American foreign policy since the1950s – the United States has now decided to open a second (home) front against its internal enemies, the deplorables. It should be borne in mind, however, that wars on two fronts are rarely successful.
OSWALD SPENGLER: THE DECLINE OF THE WEST
The palpable decline of the US has lead to a near hysteria globally. The problem is that a rising China is bringing out the anxieties with a declining America and Europe. East/West animosities are heating up over trade, technology, investment and geopolitical influence around the world. The EU and the US agree officially in describing … China as a systemic threat. But the EU – in pursuit of its own interests – has just concluded a huge trade and investment deal with the mighty dragon. (6) The early development of a realist foreign policy is beginning to emerge in both the EU and US.
However, a secondary phenomenon has made an appearance. Escalating strains within the West have added a new dimension to an already volatile mix. Global rivalries reminiscent of an earlier time are sharpening, aggravated by these countries’ collective failure to recover after the crash and recessions of 2008/2009. In particular the trans-Atlantic ructions between the US and EU countries have turned bitter. This has been amply illustrated by the Nordstream-2 episode when Germany eventually gave the green light for Russian gas much to the chagrin of the Americans. Mounting East-West tensions is interacting with intra-west tensions. Like the man said: “Therefore I say that it is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is to be marked out as the eternal ally or the perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” (7)
Bearing in mind Palmerston’s foreign policy realism and applying it to current conditions one cannot help but think that the old order in the West at least is coming and will continue to come under increasing strain as separate nations, and/or temporary alliances, will become increasingly detached in pursuit of their separate interests. And this must necessarily be the case since for the first time since before the industrial revolution a greater part of world production happens outside of the advanced industrial economies rather than the inside. Western Europe taken collectively was the biggest region between the mid-19 century and WW2, it fell behind the US just after WW2 and has since tracked the US’s steady decline.
The West’s assumptions of superiority and even divine right, of course does not go down at all well with the developing world (and China which should now be considered as being developed). The historical West’s powers-that-be want everything to stop as if it was still in 1945 – with them still in charge. Their rationale for this being the time-honoured TINA which now dominates the West’s ultra-conservative outlook. The current international regime as inherited from being virtually unchanged since WW2 no longer corresponds to the economic realities. But the West still controls the institutions of economic stewardships the IMF, WTO/WB BIS OECD, and financial literature and the global reserve currency – the US$. Trouble seems to be shaping up.
Somehow, something has got to give.
(1) This historic absence of the ‘inevitable’ rise of communism in the advanced capitalist order has been a nagging question amongst Marxist theorists during the course of the 20th century. At its best Marxism contains penetrating, indispensable, historically defined criticisms of capitalist economy, society, and culture and a powerful methodology of dialectic analysis. At the same time, however, these are often coupled (in Marx’s own work and in much later Marxism) with a dogmatic faith in historical inevitability, an exclusive focus upon the capitalist sources of modern oppression and a tendency (in some of Marx’s later writings which was much accumulated by the later orthodoxy which followed … so called objective processes. This latter development formed the basis of an official and oh-so-dreary Soviet worldview based upon the received articles of faith. This ‘mechanical Marxism’ was contested by the views of the Hungarian Marxist Georgy Lukacs but also included Bertolt Brecht, Max Horkheimer and Herbert Marcuse, who, in the first instance argued from a voluntarist position social and political change not only encompassed given objective criteria but needed to include the element of political will and action. The views of this group was a major aspect of a ‘Western Marxist’ current as it has come to be called, which was at odds with both West European Social Democrats and Soviet Communist orthodoxy but was generally confined to intellectual and academic discourse and thus, still is, contained. All very clever stuff, but these guys were too clever for their own good. So far out that very few could understand what they were talking about!
But the real political impact of Marxism/Communism/socialism has been and will continue to be in the Global South – and if there is to be some sort of Marxist/socialist/ nationalist revolution, this is where it will begin. Considering the towering political figures, Mao, Castro, Guevara, Ho Chi Minh and compare them with the leadership of the West. There are also have been a number of outstanding scholars and radical Marxists including Samir Amin and Frantz Fanon both unfortunately no longer with us, but who have bequeathed a copious body of work.
Given the measurable decline of the West a secular strategic change is in motion. How, when and where is a matter of speculation. It is to be hoped that cooperation between the orient and occident will be peaceful. But there are forces abroad who under no circumstances will find this acceptable. The future looks extremely turbulent.
(2) Werner Sombart – Why There is No Socialism in America – published 1905. There is also voluminous collection of works on Eugene Debs – too many to include.
(3) George Orwell – ‘A Hanging’ ‘Shooting an Elephant’ ‘Not Counting Niggers’ ‘Marrakech’- See The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 1 (of 4). An Age Like This 1920-1940
(4) See the comments of the ineffable Madeleine Albright on American sanctions applied against Iraq between the two Gulf Wars resulting in the deaths of upwards of 565,000 Iraqi children as a result of these sanctions. Apparently, during a TV interview Albright, a war criminal who would otherwise have been hanged, noted that this outrage against humanity was ‘worth it’ since it served US interests in the region. Another murderess – Samantha Power staunch advocate of (R2P) Responsibility to Protect but who in fact advocated (R2B) Responsibility to Bomb. How these swamp creatures could endorse this is beyond any humanistic understanding. But such is the nature of this imperial monster and its servants.
(5)William Shakespeare – Hamlet – (Act-I, Scene-IV).
(6)The finalization of the China-EU trader and investment agreement – after seven years of negotiations – took place on December 30, 2020.
(7) Lord Palmerston – Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, was a British statesman who served twice as Prime Minister in the mid-19th century. For most of 1830 to 1865, he dominated British foreign policy when Britain was at the height of its power.
An excellent summation of the political realities of the US empire and its problems the most destructive of which seem to be internal although the author also defines the external with much force. My comparisons are always either with Shakespeare or the Roman Empire. I see little difference in the path the US is following. Is the result that socialism is inevitable in the US? It certainly already operates within the the business/political community.
Hats off to the author! At first, based upon the caption of FL’s piece, I felt disposed to believe that it was yet another, shall I say, overly Pindo-centric report/interpretation addressing the current US domestic inanities and insanities. To my great delight, it was absolutely nothing of the sort.
The Anglo countries, the US in particular, give the lie to some Marxist dogma as FL rightly points out. In particular, their experience resoundingly trash the Euro-chauvinism which tacitly undergirds most of classical, ossified Marxism with its notions of ”advanced Western workers” coming to the rescue of mankind. True, Marx and Engels finally were p***ed off by what they first saw as some kind of contrived blessing: Anglo colonial rape, murder, and enslavement across the planet. European colonialism had a most successful, lasting effect in the form of racism, chauvinism, and a grovelling sense of common cause with the Elites. This is the outlook of the labour aristocracy, which never had any use of Socialism whatsoever for food, work, and shelter. In the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand this was also very much reinforced by institutionalized racism.
Today, neoliberalism and open borders are wreaking havoc on the erstwhile beneficiaries of Western imperialism. As FL puts it:
”The West’s assumptions of superiority and even divine right, of course does not go down at all well with the developing world (and China which should now be considered as being developed). The historical West’s powers-that-be want everything to stop as if it was still in 1945 – with them still in charge.”
The catch is that while the West’s Elites and most of their subjects both want to put the clock back, the Elites don’t feel any need to share the spoils as they used to. And they couldn’t care less about people’s complexion. What unites them ultimately is impotent rage at the stunning achievements of China and Russia.
American exceptionalism is not a new phenomenon, Francis. Europeans came to this continent thinking they were the “chosen ones” who God had designated to displace, rape, and pillage the indigenous just like what the Ashkenazim are now doing in Palestine. Manifest Destiny equals Zionism equals racism.
Add to that, Christian Zionism and the Scofield Reference Bible, and you pretty much have Trump’s rock-solid base. He has conned them into believing that he’s the “chosen one” who has brought the Jews back to Jerusalem and will bring on the Apocalypse and the return of their warrior messiah who will vanquish all the unbelievers and evildoers, mostly Democrats, mind you. That accounts for the religious fervor of the Trumpsters who stormed the Capitol on 1/6. He said that he would lead them to overturn the election results, when in fact, he left them to commit felony murder on their own, all captured on video for the whole world to see.
As the indictments start raining down on these true-believers, Trump will skate off to some place that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the USA, leaving them to take the fall. My guess is that his pal Bibi Netanyahu will give him safe haven in Israel. That’s where all the Kosher Nostra mobsters go to avoid prosecution for their crimes. Maybe it will be up there in the Golan settlement of Trump Heights, that is if they could build a golf course there and provide him with little boys and girls to boink until he croaks. He’ll be in Heaven until he goes to Hell to be with Jeffrey Epstein and Sheldon Adelson.
Excellent article. However, you did not fully address globalism as a transnational force that is now the basis of the Washington Empire’s power.
“you did not fully address globalism as a transnational force that is now the basis of the Washington Empire’s power.”
i will address that one:
lets take an eastern European country for example. communism collapsed, followed by
privatizations of state enterprises (e.g. theft) when some shady immoral figure got
wealthy and bribed his way into the presidents office. Now will he put his newly acquired wealth
into domestic banks and save in the local currency? of course not, either his domestic bank accounts will
be discovered and made public by competing local scum or the local currency isn’t stable enough because it suffers from inflation. Hence, the smart move is to hide all that money in western banks as hard currency dollars, pounds, euros etc. This happened in Russia, in all the post-soviet states, most likely same or similar
things happened world wide.
Now lets assume, there is a economic crisis, and the dollar is about to die. All those new elites in their respective countries will do anything to protect their “retirement” back up plans (i.e. money in
the western banks) and will implement any solution provided by those pulling the strings in the west.
Now everybody can understand why this con-vid was implemented world wide. All those transnational
elites are fighting for their bank-accounts denominated in $ and €. This is why they dont really care what
happens to their host countries, because they are already “with one leg out of the door”.
But the dollar will eventually die. so what are putin and xi doing?
remember this: “never push someone to the wall, always leave an alternative way out”
if the transnational elites are about to loose all, they would opt for war, but putin and xi are leaving a door open
for them, giving them enough time so that the transnational elites can dis-invest their holdings by buying everything up that is not nailed down (at least in the west). this is what is happening right now. when the elites have dis-invested completely, the western currencies will be allowed to collapse.
That is very good. Next question, why is China in particular, holding open the door ?
”From a fixation with its external enemies in the communist bloc /…/ the United States has now decided to open a second (home) front against its internal enemies, the deplorables. It should be borne in mind, however, that wars on two fronts are rarely successful.”
Personally, I find it next to impossible envisaging any problems for the US regime in dealing with ”the Enemy within”. There isn’t a single subparticle of international solidarity to be found in the increasing stratum of paupers in the US. They have the same mindset as the regime; to wit, they see themselves as exceptional, indispensable folks forever entitled to more imperialist loot. And they are more than happy to regurgitate regime propaganda against any countries, peoples, and leaders the regime is not happy with. What this means is that when they get shafted, the regime only has to tell them whom to blame for it.
By contrast, the Axis-of-Resistance, people and leaders alike, will see to it that the US regime can be defeated without any ”help” from within the US.
I agree with you.
There is tremendous anger in the United States. But there is no cohesiveness to it. There is no organization to it. There is no ideology arising from it. And there seems to be little understanding in the citizenry as to just what has happened to them.
The best that the citizens could come up with is Donald Trump.
That says it all.
You nailed it and that is why the situation is so depressing: there is no leadership, just widespread anger.
Say what one will, the dimos, the soros, the zionists, the neo cons, all have capitalized upon the disfunction of the opposition and here we have it, we are left with what remains of the trump.
It is very clever, disciplined, the reset, the davos crowd are focused on exploiting the situation. And all the opposition can do is to bleat out at how horrible it is, the loss of freedom of speech, whatever that means as we have really never had it, the the alt media pundits run to the internet to publish numerous critical articles and at the end of the day, one asks, so what.
bottom line: dimos are focused, disciplined. alt opposition, not. And the GOPer party is a pathetic joke, functioning as part of the uniparty.
Why the USA hasn’t a significant socialist party ?
In Europe, up to the end of the 70’s, socialism was an intricate part of labor unions and their struggle. This was largely absent in american labor unions which effectively separated the working classes from marxist ideas . The union was mostly there for better wages. This was later achieved in Europe by creating competing unions devoid of socialist trends.
So it’s not about having a third party, it’s more about having institutions like unions who can carry socialism as a goal to achieve while fighting the capitalists barons.
The elites understand this very well and destroy the working class’s unity by paying higher wages for those who accept to give up social benefits, work on sundays and holidays etc.
So there is no “natural” vehicle today for socialism, the unions have dwindled because of the de- industrialisation and out sourcing of the west.
As usual, a good article by Francis Lee.
But there was one thing that he did not address. He stated:
That is true but there is another dynamic operating as well.
There is the Davos crowd.
The Davos crowd is promoting an international dictatorship (though they don’t call it that) by themselves over everyone else on the planet. Their agenda still has very substantial traction in the West.
They are opposed by:
1) a substantially weakened group of nationalists in Western nations;
2) Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Bolivia (all by direct opposition)
3) a number of states which are starting to cautiously explore independence from the West (e.g. Mexico, Argentina, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and others)
4) the citizenry of the West.
Although they are increasingly hated by the citizenry of the West, the Davos crowd is powerful due to their infiltration of the Western political system. The also control conventional media and are working (together with the EU and the United States) to destroy alternative media.
How all this will play out is unclear.
‘Collective punishment is a form of retaliation whereby a suspected perpetrator’s family members, friends, acquaintances, sect, neighbors or entire ethnic group is targeted. The punished group may often have no direct association with the other individuals or groups, or direct control over their actions. In times of war and armed conflict, collective punishment has resulted in atrocities, and is a violation of the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions.’
‘Discrimination is the act of making unjustified distinctions between human beings based on the groups, classes, or other categories to which they are perceived to belong. People may be discriminated on the basis of race, gender, age or sexual orientation, as well as other categories. Discrimination especially occurs when individuals or groups are unfairly treated in a way which is worse than other people are treated, on the basis of their actual or perceived membership in certain groups or social categories.’
So paradoxically in the name of ‘liberalism’ two of the most illiberal methodologies, discrimination combined with collective punishment (attacking the many when faced with the actions of the few) are being imposed on an entire political movement.
Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West, abridged edition:
The library of Western Australia had only one very antiquated complete edition of Decline of the West, and it was not for loan.
If you enjoyed reading Francis Lee’s essay, give Spengler a go.
Why USA does not have political left parties?
Richard Wolf explained that really well, in number of video’s, like this one:
(There are many more).
Politics in the USA are driven by the elite…that elite is Fabian. And they are indeed steering us into communism. The US may be the only place in the world where evolution has followed the marxist outline…steered by those at the wheel. Is it possible that China and Russia, having experienced communism, now want nothing to do with it?
Interesting food for thought comes from the article by Sutton,—SUTTON_Wall_Street_and_the_bolshevik_revolution.—Google for it.
Its contents might throw some light on why the “orthodox Marxist” events did not unfold, and it offers a new
perspective on who has been behind what during the 20th century.
Today happens to be Martin Luther King Jr. day. The government, corporations, and political parties all promote both
BLM and Martin Luther King Jr. day in their absolute hypocrisy.
How magnanamus of them to give themselves a paid holiday for assassinating peace activist Martin Luther King Jr.
They are truly a bunch of class acts!
All economic systems are destined to fail with corruption. It is the corruption that is the main problem in America. In many ways, there is far too much socialism which is kept hidden from everyone with the Pentagon, Treasury, Wall Street money laundering circuit all financed and bilked to citizens, and with government employees having exhorbitantly higher and better standards of living compared to the vast majority of Americans. They are the laziest, most corrupt, incompettent, self-serving people in America. They are tyrants. Something’s got to give is right! It is high time that the government employees get off their hogh horses and realize that they are destroying the country! It is unfeasible! We now have approximately one government employee out of every eleven Americans. The median salary in America is less than $33,000. The average government employee salary is at least two to three times that amount. Out of the Americans financing the government employees, half of them pay no income taxes at all. Then add retired government employees to that. It is unsustainable. Government employees never had it so good in America! If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is! We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us used to be the USSR mantra just before its break up. In America, it is the opposite! They refuse to work, even though they are committing extortion of extreme levels!
The corporations have failed business models. Socialism will not help that. They are producing things that nobody wants and trying to force people into using them, and the tech companies pay people to spy on and steal user data. Their business model is stealing from their users and trading stock. That is not a business! It is an organized crime ring! The average Facebook employee makes over $230,000 a year. They are trying to force total surveillance on everyone that nobody wants.
We have an economy designec by Inspecter Cluseau, Maxwell Smart, and Inspector Gadget, and that is the problem!
An economy of spies and terrorists is the most asinine economy ever conceived, now claiming to spy on viruses!
Socialism will not solve this problem. It is delusional or disingenuous to suggest that it would.
Hmm, I guess my comment was too banal to see the light of day.
All I said was “Great essay, and great comments, too.”
Something of the sort. Not worth noting, I guess.
The article begins on a false premise. There were significant socialist movements in American history. The State killed them, suppressed them, and jailed them.
Is the right question being asked here? Do ‘socialist movements’, ie, movements fighting for the necessary revolution to bring about socialism, really exist in this or that country? After all, many of the first ‘socialist’ movements of Europe turned out to be thoroughly compromised and corrupted by the time of WWI. Even at its height, the jewel in the crown of ‘socialist movements’ was the German Social Democratic party (SPD) which Marx and Engels, then Engels alone, continually battled against the reformist appetites and opportunist impulses of its leaders, before the latter finally succumbed to outright reformism.
Marxism recognises that reality is concrete, and so to be concrete: today in most European countries mass social democratic workers parties exist that call themselves ‘socialist’, and others call themselves ‘communist’ that could scarcely be called ‘socialist movements’. The first have descended from the wreckage of the Second, Socialist International whose revolutionary pretensions were destroyed, and their rot finally and fully exposed, by their betrayals in supporting their ‘own’ bourgeoisies in the inter-imperialist ‘Great’ war — with the SPD being emblematic.
The other main European ‘socialist movements’ (ie, mass workers parties) are remnants of the Third or Communist International (Comintern), wrecked and then dissolved in 1943 by Stalin, with last rites administered by the counterrevolutionary restoration of capitalism in the USSR in 1991-92. Since then, the so-called ‘communist’ parties have only become even more wretched and reformist and are qualitatively no different from the reformist leftovers of the Second International.
All these so-called ‘socialist movements’ for decades have participated in, or otherwise propped up, the various capitalist regimes of Europe despite the groundless chagrin and high dudgeon of the CIA and all US governments. In fact, some have taken the wild claims of US regimes as good coin that these thoroughly reformist parties are some kind of ‘revolutionary’ threat to capitalism. They aren’t, and of course the more sophisticated political establishments of Europe know better than their childishly credulous US masters. ‘Socialist movements’ indeed.
In which country today does a revolutionary mass ‘socialist movement’ actually exist, one that’s on the verge of overthrowing capitalism? Name one. There’s none. So let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that existing ‘socialist movements’ have anything approaching a revolutionary outlook. They may be ‘socialistic’ but they ain’t socialist or communist. For instance, everyone’s current favourite is the Venezuelan Chavista government which nevertheless remains a bourgeois regime that has supported the Venezuelan capitalists against numerous workers strikes and has no prospects of expropriating the Venezuelan bourgeoisie. Like all reformist movements, the Chavistas push profound illusions in establishing ‘socialism’ without need for a revolution, or, worse, that the ‘revolution’ has already occurred. If they’re not broken from Chavism, the Venezuelan workers, like their Chilean comrades, will pay in blood for these illusions.
What exists in Europe and most advanced capitalist countries are the mass reformist workers parties, bearing either ‘communist’ or ‘socialist’ names to be sure, whose programs are thoroughly bourgeois. They’re nothing other than ‘bourgeois workers’ parties, as Lenin famously characterised the Labour parties of Britain and Australia at the time. They have bourgeois programs and working class bases that must be split from them before a genuine ‘socialist movement’ (ie, one led by a revolutionary communist party of the Bolshevik type) can emerge. This outlook was elaborated by Lenin and the Comintern in its Third and Fourth congresses, as part of the united front tactic.
What’s the right question, then? In fact there are two.
The first is: why are none of the so-called ‘socialist movements’ actually revolutionary? Why are they ‘socialistic’ but not ‘socialist’ in any way that wouldn’t make Marx, Engels or Lenin recoil in horror? We’re told here that their mass working class bases (in Anglophone countries mainly!) display no signs of revolutionary consciousness, either because of ‘roast beef and apple pie’ or for other ‘objective’, structural, overwhelmingly abstract reasons (ie, excuses).
To repeat, the truth is always concrete and until the concrete reasons for this are adduced, there’ll be no progress. The main characteristic of the mass reformist workers parties in the imperialist centres and advanced capitalist countries is that they have reformist leaderships whose own base isn’t actually the rank and file of the organised working class but its misleaders in the trade union bureaucracies. The trade union bureaucracy is the conservative millstone around the neck of the working class and has existed as a social phenomenon since at least the last quarter of the 19th century. It transmits backward consciousness into the working class, including ‘class peace’, ‘compromise’, protectionism and nationalism, and this political mindset informs the programs of the mass reformist workers parties. The misleaders of the trade union bureaucracy beg like dogs at the table of the bourgeoisie for scraps and are thrown a few for being ‘good’ poodles; and they abuse union dues to prop up the parties of reformism.
If a ‘socialist movement’ is to emerge from the working class, the latter must be broken from illusions in the reformism of the mass ‘socialist’, ‘labour’ and ‘communist’ workers parties. This means ousting the trade union misleaders in class battles and struggles and replacing them with a revolutionary leadership that will lead the necessary political break from the class collaboration and reformism of the workers parties themselves.
The second question is this: why has no mass workers party formed in the US, where it has in every other advanced capitalist country? It’s not question of a ‘third’ party, but a workers party. And here we see the term ‘socialist movement’ concealing this fundamental class issue that no-one wants to acknowledge: there’s no mass workers party in the US — in this sense the US is indeed ‘exceptional’. Instead it’s always framed as a lack of a ‘third’ party (ie, a number), a problem devoid of any class-based, ie Marxian, understanding. And of course, without a workers party there’s no ‘socialist movement’. Yet, as we see from above, even when mass workers parties exist, it doesn’t necessarily follow that ‘socialist movements’ exist.
The first important factor in the US behind the failure of a mass workers party to emerge is that ruling classes in all countries learn from history, and it needs to be understood that the US ruling class saw the communist threat from the earliest days of the Bolshevik revolution. The US Cold War really started in earnest with the Palmer raids of 1919-20, but before and after revolutionary ‘socialist movements’ existed and congealed into the Communist Party of the USA. Despite racial and ethnic differences in the working class, which the US ruling class exploited at every turn, the CPUSA began to grow seriously from the mid-1930s out of the huge class conflicts that led to the spectacular growth of industrial unionism and the formation of the CIO in the late 1930s.
However, Stalin’s turn to the Popular Front policy in 1935 dictated that the CP throw its support behind FDR, the Democratic Party and the New Deal in exchange for no more ‘threats’ of revolution, including any serious efforts to build a mass workers party independent of the bourgeoisie. At the beginning of the 1930s, the CPUSA had around 7,500 active members; by the close of the decade these numbered around 66,000 and peaked in early 1947 at around 75,000, with membership declining subsequently. This is the closest the US came to having a mass working class party that was ostensibly revolutionary. If one counts its followers (sympathisers and voters) the numbers are about double.
In its fealty to FDR and the US ruling class, the CP went so far as to support the persecution of Trotskyists when they opposed the inter-imperialist slaughter of WWII, who were charged alongside Teamster union leaders with ‘sedition’. This obstructed the growth of the Teamsters into a nationwide industrial union. But this treachery rendered the CP, and the labour movement overall, relatively easy targets for the post-WWII McCarthyite witch hunts and purges. The Taft-Hartley Act (1949) further cemented a hardened anti-communist leadership in the trade unions, along with all manner of prohibitions of class solidarity in industrial actions, that to this day has not only effectively kept reds out but led to repeated sellouts and the ultimate decline of organised labour in the US.
The US has thus since remained ‘free’ of a mass workers party due primarily to opportunistic and grovelling fealty of labour’s misleaders to the Democratic Party, and who have constantly aided and abetted the purging of communists, socialists and other leftists from the labour movement.
To repeat, it’s not a ‘third’ party that’s needed in the US. In numerous countries dominated by two-party duopolies, for example Britain and Australia, one of the duopoly is a mass reformist workers party. In the US the first step of forming a mass working class party is yet to be achieved. Given the profound crisis that the monumentally arrogant and stupid US ruling class has only exacerbated, the chances of this happening have not been as good since the 1930s. And where is the revolutionary organisation, which now would be a small propaganda group, that can take advantage of this ever-worsening growing crisis? This is the real question, because if a revolution can be made in the US, the rest of the world will follow much more easily. From the centre, the belly of the beast, to the periphery, not the reverse.
Instead, after all this what’s left? A tired rehash of New Left romantic illusions in Maoism and other Third world revolutionary movements based on peasant/guerrilla movements with little relevance to advanced capitalist countries where no significant peasantry exists. The ‘guerrilla road to power’, ie, revolution in the countryside ‘surrounds’ the metropolitan centres to make revolution inevitable in the latter, is a profound illusion that stands in the way of the hard task of actually building revolutionary workers parties in the advanced countries to win the working class over from being a class in itself to becoming a class for itself.
Finally, the whole notion of a ‘movement’, ‘socialist’ or otherwise, is inchoate and misses the point: ‘movements’ get nowhere without leadership, and what’s vitally necessary are disciplined, revolutionary communist parties of the Bolshevik type to lead the working class to power.