'Two-party face' of
capitalism's 'one-party system'
(Books of the Month column)
Below is an excerpt from Capitalism's World Disorder: Working-Class Politics at the Millennium by Jack Barnes. The French edition is one of Pathfinder's Books of the Month for November. Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, helps explain "how the wretched world in which we live came to be, how it was imposed on us, and how we can overturn it and build something new." This excerpt is from the chapter "So Far from God, So Close to Orange County: The Deflationary Drag of Finance Capital." It is based on a talk presented to a regional socialist educational conference in Los Angeles over the 1994-95 New Year's weekend. Copyright © 1999 Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
BY JACK BARNES
Those of us who grew up in the postwar period are acquainted with what has been known as the Democratic Party "labor-liberal coalition." It grouped together—under the political awning of the Democratic Party—the AFL-CIO officialdom, the leaderships of the NAACP and other major civil rights groups, and executive officers of public and private welfare agencies. Today, that coalition is scarcely a shadow of its former self. Nor does it have the appearance of any substantial weight in bourgeois politics. For the Communist Party and the rest of the petty-bourgeois left in the working-class movement in the United States, this is cause for great sorrow and lamentation. But for communist workers, it is grounds for celebration.
The so-called labor-liberal-civil rights coalition was never a fighting alliance of workers and youth. It was never an alliance of the ranks of the massive battles that built the industrial unions in the 1930s and then advanced Black rights in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a coalition of apparatuses and officialdoms who derived their authority from the concessions those working-class struggles had wrested. It was a coalition of those who sat on top of the unions and civil rights organizations and prevented them from effectively defending or extending those gains. It was a coalition that blocked all advances toward political activity independent of the party structures that serve the exploiters and oppressors. As such, it was very useful to the capitalist parties and politicians for many decades.
This so-called coalition was built on the lie that if working people in struggle would support this or that wing of the exploiters, staying within their two-party system, then a way could be found to make progress and improve conditions of life for workers and farmers. So long as the postwar capitalist expansion gave the rulers a margin for concessions, that class-collaborationist illusion could be portrayed by the labor officialdom as having some basis in reality. Given capitalism's current deflationary conditions, however, the bureaucracy finds it harder and harder to produce on that lie. But with the help of parts of the left, growing sections of the officialdom will work overtime to try to give that coalition an appearance of renewal.
The fight for jobs and class unity
The cadres of a revolutionary working-class movement will not come out of the breakup of the "labor-liberal coalition" in the Democratic Party. They will not emerge around the edges of bourgeois politics and institutions. Radicalized working-class currents will begin to develop only as a conscious, fighting labor movement grows. Only the actions and combat experience of workers, and the self-confidence such activity brings, will fuel a working-class radicalization and propel the emergence of new leadership from the ranks of those who are fighting.
Class-conscious workers must never fall for the bourgeois propaganda that the government ever gives us anything. They do not give us what they call welfare benefits, or Social Security pensions, or workers compensation, or unemployment benefits, or public schools, or Medicare, or anything else. Whatever workers win in expanding the social wage is simply taking back from the exploiting class a portion of the wealth our class has produced with our social labor.
The labor movement has to fight to replace the stingy, means-tested, tax-your-paycheck programs that the bosses call welfare, that they call Social Security, with real welfare,real social security. Labor must fight for compensation at union wages for all those who cannot work, have been laid off, or cannot find a job. Labor must fight for retirement pensions, disability benefits, and lifetime public education.
This is not "the dole," "handouts," or "giveaways." These are universal social rights for a class, participating in the culture the wealth they produce makes possible. These entitlements are distributed out of a part of what that class—and only that class and its toiling allies—produces. The working class is taking back a portion of those resources so our class as a whole can be stronger, can make it between jobs, has some protection from the ravages of inflation, and has some precious time to do the things the bosses' system prevents us from doing. This is an essential part of fighting for the unity, the morale, and the combativity that the labor movement needs to wage a successful revolutionary struggle. These are part of what the working class fights to establish as human rights
The demand for jobs is becoming more and more important throughout the capitalist world, as well… .
Today, bourgeois politics in the United States is more of a one-party system than it has ever been in the lifetime of anyone in this hall. Not just in foreign policy, where the rulers have followed a bipartisan strategic course since the end of World War I, but in domestic economic and social policy as well.
I do not mean to exaggerate—the two-party face of the one-party system remains decisive for the bourgeoisie in fooling working people.