The class struggle in the United States is in limbo. So many Americans are struggling amid declining living standards and are angry at the system, yet they aren’t rebelling like the people in France, Chile, and other deteriorated neoliberal countries have recently been doing. Where are the mass protests? Where are the general strikes? Understanding why an American class revolt still hasn’t manifested is key to understanding how it can be brought about.
One of the factors behind the absence of an American general strike is that unlike France, the U.S. has very constraining labor laws that typically make the consequences of not showing up to work too great for people to feel like striking is worth it. Strikes can still happen in the U.S., and in fact they’ve been happening in America in the last two years at a decades-high rate. But strikes are illegal for federal workers, and the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 has prohibited numerous forms of strikes. So far in this last century, the American bourgeoisie has been able to intimidate people into not carrying out any strike big enough to truly threaten the power structure.
In addition to this especially severe American situation of capitalist coercion, America’s political culture has been systematically deprived of class conscious thought and revolutionary organizations. The country’s unions have diminished to near irrelevancy throughout the neoliberal era, the communist and anti-imperialist movements have long been pushed to the margins by America’s capitalist two-party system, and socialism has been thoroughly demonized or co-opted by bourgeois politicians. The constant war propaganda and media distractions that Americans are exposed to serve to politically paralyze ordinary people, diverting their attention towards manufactured foreign enemies and trivial issues.
In this environment, American class struggle in the 21st century has almost exclusively taken the form of reactive experiments in activism that aren’t focused on mounting a serious opposition to the bourgeois state. Anarchist collectives and single-issue groups have typically taken the place of what would otherwise be communist organizations which focus on abolishing the bourgeois state. When populist movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Bernie Sanders campaign have appeared, they’ve represented messages about reforming the system rather than an agenda for proletarian revolution. People haven’t had the means nor the will to mount a real resistance to bourgeois power, instead gravitating towards whatever reformist or “anti-authoritarian” options become most visible to them.
The United States, being the primary imperialist country for the last several generations, has naturally been the capitalist country that’s most resistant to revolution. Its identity as the most powerful country on the planet, as well as its foundations of settler-colonialism, have been exploited towards solidifying the rule of its capitalist class. This is why out of all the countries which have transitioned into neoliberalism in the last half-century, the U.S. has gone especially far in dismantling its social safety net and has become among the most unequal.
The success of this American campaign to crush revolutionary momentum has also been its undoing. After decades of austerity, falling wages, and deregulations that have led to an ongoing massive recession, Americans have grown dissatisfied. Apathetic voting patterns, decline for the Republican and Democratic parties, high public support for expanding social programs, and growing support for socialism indicate that the country’s people by and large desire a major change to make the economy more equal.
Until the movement for proletarian revolution can be meaningfully strengthened, this is the extent of the good news for class struggle in America. The fact that most Americans don’t like the status quo doesn’t mean that they intend to join a revolution, or that those who say that they’re for “revolution” truly grasp what this would mean. America’s colonial mindset runs so deep that even among many of those in the country who say they favor socialism, many of them believe that socialism would mean a Bernie Sanders-style social democracy where imperialism and the settler state continue.
But none of these obstacles to revolution are surprising. They’re simply the material reality of what living in a core imperial nation is like. Che Guevara said that “I envy you. You North Americans are very lucky. You are fighting the most important fight of all — you live in the belly of the beast.” Our task is to defeat the beast, and in the 2020s this task will be easier than ever.
It’s become easier because while the United States’ colonial culture hasn’t gone away, the American economy and the Western imperial power structure have greatly declined. The disaster of neoliberalism has discredited the ruling class ideology, and Washington is facing a widespread decline in its influence while protest movements develop within the neoliberal regimes it’s installed. The American bourgeois state is facing an array of threats to its stability, ones that will be exacerbated when civil unrest inevitably breaks out within the United States.
To translate this unrest into an effective movement, we’ll need to guide the anti-establishment energy of the masses towards building a communist movement–not just one that sloganeers as communist, but one that builds a cohesive revolutionary structure. As the Maoists Cajeme Iniciado and Kike wrote in an essay from last year: “Anyone can say they’re a Communist, but are they a Communist? Are they serving the people and organizing for People’s War? Are they part of the movement to reconstitute the Communist Party under Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, principally Maoism, in their country?”
Despite most Americans’ lack of familiarity with terms like Leninism and Maoism, it’s easy to build popular support for the idea of forming an organization that fights for the interests of workers and poor people. This is what communist institutions like the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the African People’s Socialist Party are doing, at least within their limited reach. If people who are serious about proletarian and anti-colonial revolution continue to build organizations and spread their messages, they’ll be able to leverage a situation of social upheaval in the United States.
By this, I mean these revolutionary strains should make themselves instrumental in the general activism efforts around specific issues, getting their members involved in whichever worker rights disputes, anti-austerity struggles, and civil liberties battles that emerge. This is basically what France’s communists have been doing. Left Voice wrote this month that
“the CCR [Revolutionary Communist Current] is intervening prominently in the ongoing strike against pension reforms that has lasted for over 40 days. Members of CCR are leading the struggle from within their unions, workplaces, and universities, pushing for class independence as union officials meet with the government. In the workers’ assemblies breaking out across the country, they advocate for a broadening of the strike’s demands to draw new sectors into the struggle, as well as for a generalization of the strike to paralyze France’s economy.”
If we cultivate a similar situation in the U.S., we’ll be able to not just grow revolutionary institutions but exacerbate the strength of the mass civil disobedience efforts that emerge. As Rosa Luxemburg wrote, a general strike becomes easy to realize when class struggle comes to a head:
The mass strike is not artificially “made,” not “decided” at random, not “propagated”… it is a historical phenomenon which, at a given moment, results from social conditions with historical inevitability. It is not, therefore, by abstract speculations on the possibility or impossibility, the utility or the injuriousness of the mass strike, but only by an examination of those factors and social conditions out of which the mass strike grows in the present phase of the class struggle… that the problem can be grasped or even discussed.
When we get to such a point in this country, a point where mass civil disobedience breaks out and the communist parties are on the rise, then we’ll be able to manifest the stage where the revolutionaries take power through occupying territory and overthrowing governments.
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