Better read than dead: the Communist Manifesto and southwest Ohio

How could the Communist Manifesto, a 160-year-old book, have any relevance in explaining southwest Ohio labor’s recent electoral defeat?

For one, workers should carefully read it. As this old but very well-written book states in Frederick Engels’s 1888 preface, “… the defeats even more than the victories, could not help bringing home to men’s minds the insufficiency of their various favorite nostrums, and preparing the way for a more complete insight into the true conditions for working-class emancipation.”

Before the U.S. Civil War, Cincinnati was an economic gateway to the Southern slave states. The city still has currents of virulent white supremacy, economic reaction and class hatred in its ruling class base. Within a 100-mile radius of Cincinnati is the power base of the right wing.  The House speaker-elect; the senator-elect and Republican presidential hopeful for 2012, Rob Portman; the re-elected  “impeacher” of President Clinton, Representative-elect Steve Chabot; and, right across the Ohio River, the ultra-right Senate power broker, “Mr. Filibuster,” Mitch McConnell and his friend Mr. “Abolish the 14th Amendment,” Senator-elect Rand Paul.

What might be learned from living in the middle of this cauldron of the ultra right?

The first and foremost lesson, once again echoing the Communist Manifesto, is, “Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature: It has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: bourgeoisie and proletariat.” No matter how much we of southwest Ohio’s organized labor movement may have wanted a cautious, middle of the road victory, we could not escape the fact that the ultra right was out for blood – our blood – and they got it.

We learned more deeply what the representatives of the ultra-right section of the capitalist class know full well: “This organization of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves.” The first and most powerful weapon of division used by the ultra right is a three-part racist offensive, against Blacks, immigrants and Muslims.  Often they hurl all three at President Obama. Ultra-right talk radio, including local hosts, plays a crucial role in splitting off or demobilizing a sizable minority of union members. This radio fog of lies has as it’s most powerful slogan,  “‘They’ want your job!”

Another lesson of our “political pounding” is that the leadership in the Democratic Party in southwest Ohio has a fatal political weakness when dealing with the powerful and vicious assault of the ultra-right section of the capitalist class. “A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances, in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society. To this section belong … reformers of every imaginable kind.”

This section, which leads the Democratic Party, “…want[s] all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers resulting therefrom.” When this group comes under the ultra-right onslaught, they tend to start talking about their tax cutting credentials or their belief in balancing the budget, tactics that seriously weakened their message on job creation. Workers stayed home in droves.   That always means victory for the Republicans. Democrats can never “out Republican the Republicans” and when they try to do so, it means defeat.

The simple working-class truth is that the ultra-right capitalists, represented by the Republican Party, want high unemployment to keep labor cheap and and any statement to the contrary is a lie. Jobs come with stimulus spending on infrastructure, not from Wall Street gamblers. The Democrats’ weak message in southwest Ohio did more to put a Wall Street gambler in the State House than the Republicans’ attack ads.

Only the diverse but unified working class is capable of learning the lessons and leading the way forward.

All quotes from the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederich Engels. Image by Kevin Steinhardt // CC BY-SA 2.0