Given the unprecedented economic, political and military power of the U.S. ruling class, it may seem like a pipedream to believe that working people can ever take over.
And yet, there are good reasons to believe the foundations of this colossus may not be that strong.
First, the natural evolution of capitalism, in which the big fish eat up the small fish, has channeled an unbelievable concentration of wealth into the hands of an extremely tiny group. Only 1% of the population now owns just over half of all stocks and bonds and the richest 5% of the population holds 60% of all the wealth in our country.
In reality, there are a few thousand families with hundreds of millions and billions of dollars in assets who control the main banking, finance, manufacturing, extraction, media, communications, transport, aerospace and real estate corporations.
Second, the corporate system which has nowhere been more successful than in our country, has clearly failed to guarantee basic necessities of life – jobs, health care, housing, education – to the workers and people. In fact, the system is in crisis. The Wall Street meltdown, massive unemployment, stagnant wages, fierce repression of unions, endless wars and a growing, life-threatening environmental crisis have led millions of Americans to question the entire system of corporate power.
The corporate ruling class faces an emerging political problem. During the decades of the Cold War, advocacy of socialism was considered off limits and repressed on pretexts of national security and patriotism. But now with no “enemy” to point to, the idea of socialism has re-emerged with a vengeance.
To the surprise of many, the conservative Rasmussen poll found in April, 2009, that only 53% of Americans believe that capitalism is better than socialism. Twenty per cent said socialism was better with the remainder undecided. For Democrats 30% preferred socialism. For young people it was 33% with only 37% preferring capitalism.
This was evidently not a fluke as the following January the Gallup poll found 36% of Americans and 53% of Democrats have a positive attitude toward socialism while 33% have a negative attitude to capitalism and 49% having a negative attitude to big business.
While the terms, socialism and capitalism, were not defined and may well be vague in people’s minds, the polls, nonetheless, reflect the fact that tens of millions of Americans see corporate power as the obstacle to progress and the negation of the democratic ideal of government of the people, by the people and for the people. They favor major curbs on corporate power and believe that the government has a responsibility to guarantee jobs and economic security for working people. They would subscribe to the defining slogan of the progressive movement: People Before Profits.
An especially significant factor in the growing challenge to corporate power is the re-emergence of organized labor with militant and class-conscious leadership. This was signaled by the election in 1995 of John Sweeney, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, as president of the AFL-CIO, ending decades of conservative leadership that actively collaborated with Cold War anti-communism and offered scant resistance as the corporations suppressed wages and sent jobs abroad.
Labor now has become the magnet around which a broad and growing coalition of progressive forces has emerged. This has taken organizational form in struggles for jobs, health care reform, the right of workers to form unions, the defense of social security and, especially, elections. In fact, labor was critical to Democratic electoral victories in Congress in 2006 and the 2008 Presidential election.
Third, the unprecedented systemic and emerging political crisis has deepened a long-standing division within the tiny corporate ruling class. The dominant section, based in such industries as oil, finance and military contractors, has moved increasingly to the right and pursues vehemently anti-labor, racist, militarist and anti-democratic policies. The minor section is more liberal believing that preservation of corporate power and profits requires that concessions be made to the working class. The division is reflected in the two main political parties.
It was the alliance between liberal and centrist Democrats, the coalition of progressive forces including labor, the African-American community and youth as well as many independents that enabled Barack Obama to be elected. The right-wing, ousted after 30 years of increasingly extremist rule refuses to accept the result of this election and has resorted to unprecedented disruption aimed at destroying the Obama presidency and breaking up the Obama coalition. They hope racism, anti-immigrant prejudice, threats of violence and anger over the continuing economic crisis can be channeled into Republican votes. They have launched and financed the so-called tea party movement raising the specter of fascism.
Labor and its progressive allies recognize the danger and are mobilizing to defend democratic, civil, economic and social rights from the right-wing threat. Once again the progressive coalition is allied with the Democrats as the only way to defeat the ultra-right. The focal point has become the November midterm elections with the aim of holding the line, minimizing setbacks and, where possible, making gains.
Having held power since 1980, the right-wing is deeply entrenched in all branches of government particularly in military, foreign policy and intelligence circles. It also controls major sections of the media, think-tanks and religious groups. Its power will not be destroyed in a few elections and sessions of Congress. We are in for a protracted battle.
The ramifications of this battle go far beyond electoral and legislative politics. Defeat of the right wing of the U.S. ruling class would be a major, possibly decisive, blow to corporate power and set the stage for far-reaching advances, including the possibility of socialism. In other words, the defeat of the ultra-right is both an immediate political and long-range strategic necessity for the working class and broad sections of the people.
The historical experience of countries that established socialism in the 20th century shows that the working class had first to ally with sections of the capitalist class in order to defeat the most reactionary forces. Only then was it possible to overcome the capitalists as a whole.
The building of a multi-class coalition of democratic forces to defeat the ultra-right is a necessary stage in achieving socialism in our country.