by Rainer Shea
Writer, Dandelion Salad
Rainer Shea: Anti-Imperialist Journalist, Jan. 27, 2020
January 29, 2020
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.
Rainer uses the written word to deconstruct establishment propaganda and to promote meaningful political action. His articles can also be found at Revolution Dispatch.
If you appreciate my work, I hope you become a one-time or regular donor to my Patreon account. Like most of us, I’m feeling the economic pinch during late-stage capitalism, and I need money to keep fighting for a new system that works for all of us. Go to my Patreon here. Follow Rainer on Twitter, Youtube and Medium.
From the archives:
The Next Economic Crash Will End Capitalism As We Know It by Rainer Shea
Being Anti-Imperialist Means Supporting Proletarian Revolution + As Capitalism Collapses Into Fascism, Socialist Revolution Looms by Rainer Shea
The 2020s Will Be When America Experiences A Social Breakdown by Rainer Shea + Jeff J. Brown: 19-year-old Rainer Shea is a Proud American Communist
Socialism: Creating a World to Change Our Lives by Sam Friedman (must-read)
Yellow Vests, Class Struggle and Spontaneous Revolution by Gaither Stewart
Abby Martin: Capitalism–America’s Unofficial Religion + Understanding Marxism and Socialism
Chris Hedges and David North: The Working Class Has the Most Fundamental Interest in Ending the Capitalist System
What Will A Socialist Society Be Like? by Jessica Hansen-Weaver
What If Workers Ran Society? by Elizabeth Schulte
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The US had far fewer social support programs than other countries, we have never had healthcare for all, decent vacation time, maternity leave, etc as other countries had implemented. So people in other countries see the decline more easily, I believe, they remember the good things. The US at least had full employment, decent wages and strong unions in the 50s and 60s, but most people now have not experienced such things. (Hell, RUSSIA has healthcare, 4 weeks holidays, 3 years maternity leave, free or well-assisted college and social security! Our lying media of course will never tell us this.)
So – greedy sociopaths quite thoroughly hijacked our government in the 70s. Their intent was not only to bust unions, repress wages, squash people power and silence voices of dissent, but to blame “illegal” immigrants for the job losses and repressed wages that the greedy themselves knew they were causing by offshoring jobs, and put out relentless propaganda to brainwash us, plus take over media to push their selfish, inhumane agenda.
They even changed immigration laws around this time to ensure that people could NOT come as they typically did, and that doing so could be termed “illegal”. They also put out constant narratives about “greedy unions” and about how minimum wage was meant for teens working in high school. This brainwashed the public – including myself back then – as most of us were not informed about the history of unions and labor struggles, or even that minimum wage was implemented to be a decent living wage!
The other major goal of the hijackers of our government was to gain control over federal money, because these slimy bastards knew what going off the gold standard in 1971 meant, and most of the public had ZERO clue, and still does not. It meant that federal money could be issued in ANY AMOUNT for anything that is physically possible, and if unscrupulous corrupt greedy sociopaths controlled the mechanism whereby federal money is issued – Congress – they could do endless scams, and contracts and embezzling, especially their biggest scam, “privatization”.
If more of the public understood this, revolt would happen immediately. These sociopaths take over running things and then can bill the federal government ANY AMOUNT, providing massive exec salaries and insanely high profits. Wall Street firms invest, knowing that profits are guaranteed via federal money. Basically we are rewarding these monsters for doing any wars, imprisoning more people, filling the detention centers, running healthcare that denies people care, etc. They fully intend to privatize EVERYTHING. They are money addicts always out for their next “money fix”, and they are destroying humanity and the planet unless we can stop them.
(To find out how our federal money actually works, and see that it is NOT finite and NOT “our tax dollars), look up Deficit Owls on youtube and some of the individual economics professors trying to educate us about how the liars have duped us: Stephanie Kelton, Pavlina Tcherneva, John Harvey – who has many articles in Forbes – Bill Mitchell of Australia, Fadhel Kaboub and others. Also see the “mythfighter” blog and “Itsthepeoplesmoney” blog, both written by economics experts to help inform the general public. They are all trying to show us how EASILY we can have good things, as the constraint is actually resources, like labor, machinery, etc, and NOT the amount of money available.)
Thanks for your commentary, debtee88.
The only way to get the message to the masses successfully, is via easily understandable pop culture: Songs, videos, movies, memes, slam poetry, comics, fakebook, graphic novels, graffiti, T shirts, etc. (add yours here).
The corporate oligarchs must be demonised and outed at every opportunity, because that’s precisely what they are.
Unless and until white and non white fight as brothers up in arms and are willing to make together sane sacrifices for each other, ain’t gonna happen.
I wish it were that easy, but I don’t think so. Rainer, you mentioned what I see as the biggest obstacle:
“…America’s political culture has been systematically deprived of class conscious thought…”
Indeed, Trump and others like him have managed to persuade a large portion of the working class that their enemy is the immigrants and refugees, not the billionaires. And Obama and others like him have managed to persuade a large portion of the working class that the technocrats are managing the economy for the good of all (which, of course, they are not).
What we need is a cultural change, on a more emotional level than “everyone should read Marx and Lenin.” We need a change toward SOLIDARITY with other workers, toward cooperation, away from competition, away from separateness.
And I think that you — and many other far leftists, Marxist-Leninists — are underestimating the significance of Bernie Sanders’s campaign. He is promoting solidarity, even if he doesn’t use quite that word. He is promoting it far more effectively than your beloved PSL or any other socialist party has done in decades. The Bernie movement is not yet as radical as you or I might wish, but I think that if class consciousness is coming, it will come from inside the Bernie movement.