Political Crisis Today Like No Other in American History
Today, the political party system is in crisis. A fundamental shift in the economy, brought on by technology that no longer requires human labor, has caused the elimination of millions of jobs, leaving the workers desperately searching for the necessities of life. Politically, there is a sense that the country has lost its way, and that it is headed in the wrong direction, with established political rulers either unable or unwilling to do anything about it. Ruptures in the prevailing political system are giving way to possible new third party attempts, as ruling class and the workers attempt to grapple with the profound political crisis.
At every stage of economic development in America, political parties have either been reshaped or realigned, or new parties have emerged to meet the changing needs of the economic system.
Today, qualitatively new means of production – labor replacing technology – have changed the game. The unprecedented instability and polarization created by this new technology is expressed in the electoral process today. Splits, shifting, and new political forms are inevitable, as the classes begin to struggle to shape society around their interests. The ruling class seeks a way to maintain private property at all costs, while the working class, in its desperate search to secure its means of survival, can only obtain their ends through the complete transformation of society on a new basis.
The Civil War Period
From the time of the founding of the American republic, from 1788 until the 1850s, the slave power dominated the political process. With the advent of the 19th century, there also came the introduction of a new technology, which had a profound effect upon the established agrarian economy. The steam- powered cotton gin provided the basis for an accelerated expansion of slavery and the production of cotton for a world market. In the North, steam-powered locomotives, printing presses, steamboats, and steam-powered factories transformed the means of production. The Erie Canal was built, along with new railroads that connected an industrializing East, with a rapidly expanding Midwest.
The economy based in industry stood in direct antagonism to a slave-based agrarian economy. That antagonism began to be expressed politically.
Prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, the two-party system began to fracture, and a variety of political parties emerged. The Republican Party arose not as a party of abolition, but it advocated a “free labor” economy built around the new technology representing Northern industry.
In 1859 John Brown, veteran of the battles over slave state or free in Kansas and Missouri, attacked the slave power at Harpers Ferry, demanding the abolition of slavery. The crisis in the economy and the resulting political crisis could not be resolved until there was that pole of clarity that expressed a new idea and a new cause. Harpers Ferry was that pole of clarity. The Civil War became inevitable, and in the course of the war abolition became its cause.
In 1860, the fractured political system allowed for the new third party, the Republican Party, to prevail. Abraham Lincoln was elected, followed by the secession of the Southern states and the outbreak of the Civil War. After the war, slavery was eventually abolished and the political system was realigned. However, by 1876 both political parties — the Republican Party and the Democratic Party — were dominated by Wall Street.
From the Civil War to Today
As the Civil War ended, followed by the overthrow of Reconstruction in the South, the shifting economic realignment necessitated a subsequent political realignment. Intertwined with the question of how the new laboring force in the South was to be controlled, was also the question of how the interests of Wall Street could best be served. Rule was returned to the planter class, but they became subordinate to Wall Street, and out of the debris of war emerged America’s first colony, the Black Belt South. Remaining an agrarian economy, the South tied the workers to the land through the development of the sharecropping system. The crop-lien system was the means by which colonial tribute was exacted from the Southern worker.
Populism arose during this period as a response to the stifling control imposed by finance and industrial capital in the North. The populist movement, developed in the South and throughout the Midwest, was a movement of sharecroppers, tenants and some workers, but it was also a movement of a dying class of small farmers. The Farmers Alliance was formed in the 1880s, including the Colored Alliance in the South.
Nationalization became a key element of the populist program. Nationalization of the monopolies and particularly the banks was intended, in order to preserve small business and the yeoman farmer. The ruling class used white supremacy to attack and control the populist movement by force, intimidation and terror. In this way, the ruling class was able to co-opt and defeat the populist movement, divide the workers, and pave the way for the creation of America’s first colony and a fascist State apparatus, which was kept in place for over 80 years.
In 1948 the U.S. was faced with becoming a global superpower and the question was how it was to expand its empire. This included how the direct colonies were to be dismantled and become new markets for U.S. capital and prevent these new markets from going over to the socialist camp led by the Soviet Union.
In this context, Harry Truman began to put forward policies that opposed segregationist rule. The U.S. could not appear on the world stage as a champion of national liberation movements, while at the same time Jim Crow segregation prevailed in the American South. Additionally, desegregation was necessary for the industrialization of the South. Truman ordered an end to racial discrimination in the military, created the Fair Employment Practices Commission, proposed anti-lynching laws and supported the elimination of poll taxes. In response, Strom Thurmond formed the States Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrats), to oppose desegregation.
In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed, immediately followed in 1965 by the Voting Rights Act. This was also when Barry Goldwater carried five Deep South states as a Republican — the first time since the overthrow of Reconstruction.
In 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party attended the Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City and demanded to be seated as the true representatives of the Democratic Party. They were finally seated at the 1968 convention in Chicago. At the same time, George Wallace ran as the candidate of the American Independent Party. During this period we see adjustments and shifting in both political parties. From Nixon to Reagan, the Republican Party launched a “southern strategy,” learning from the candidacy of George Wallace and came to be the dominant political party in the South. The Democratic Party was transformed as well. The old New Deal liberal party became the party of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Leap to a New Society
Ours is also a time of economic and political crisis. But this political crisis is like no other in American history. The changes in the political party system, from before the Civil War until now, represent adjustments to the quantitative developments of a capitalist economy as it has passed through its various stages. The Civil War period reflected the profound shift that was occurring, which was changing from an agrarian and slave-labor economy to an industrial and wage-labor economy.
All of human history and society up until now can be seen as stages of different forms of property. What lies at the basis of the crisis today is a leap from one quality to another, from one form of private property to another to the abolition of private property altogether. The introduction of technology that requires no human labor displaces millions of workers permanently from production, which irreparably destroys wage-labor capitalism. This antagonism unleashes instability and disruption in its wake, heaping up untold wealth on the side of private property and untold deprivation and want on the side of a new class of workers created by electronics.
This fundamental struggle developing between the classes was not settled in the 2016 election, but the election did place on the agenda the urgent questions: Which way can we go forward, what are we to do, what is the solution? Ultimately, there are only two options. Either communism based on the robot, or fascism based on the robot.
Political Report of the Central Body of the LRNA, August 2016. Edited for publication, November 2016)
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011