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.