By David Sole
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the founders of the theory scientific socialism, noted in their 1848 classic work, the Communist Manifesto, that “a specter is haunting Europe – the specter of Communism.” This apparition terrified all the ruling classes even though the working class had barely begun to get themselves organized. The Manifesto begins with the observation that “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle….of oppressor and oppressed, [who] stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight,”
Today, in the United States, that specter is still terrifying the capitalist ruling class even though the class struggle is seemingly muted and hidden from view. But the ruling class is quite aware of how quickly the class struggle can break out into the open and spread among the masses, especially with the speed of internet communication. The huge rebellion rebellion following the racist police murder of George Floyd reminded them of this fact.
Some people have difficulty trying to figure out how 74 million voters, many of them from the U.S. working class voted for Donald Trump on November 3, with his program of favoring big business and his hatred of people of color, immigrants, Muslims, Muslims, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, unions, etc. Of course this is disturbing to every progressive minded person but it should come as no surprise.
The capitalist class has been firmly in power in the United States at least since the end of the Civil War (1865) when the powerful slave owning class was soundly defeated and chattel slavery was ended (at least in law). Consider how much money has been spent every day, every year, every decade in those 155 years in educating the populace to glorify big business, the banks and their capitalist system. This has gone on in crude grade school propaganda and sophisticated college curriculums. Think of the control of the mass media for 155 years first in books and newspapers, then radio and TV most of whose content is designed to make it unthinkable to challenge the system.
This is precisely why Marx and Engels, who saw so much so clearly, wrote in 1845 that
“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.” [The German Ideology].
In the United States, the strongest component of ruling class ideology has been racism and white supremacy. Along with it the ruling class and their agents have promoted anti-LGBTQ+ ideas, anti-women sentiment, anti-people with disabilities and anti-immigrant thinking.
In order to further weaken the ability of people to think clearly and break through the ruling class’ hold on them, they have spread, for more than a century, anti-scientific thinking including attacks on biological evolution. It should be no wonder that 74 million people voted for Trump. It is remarkable that a majority voted against him.
Of course the November 3 election doesn’t mean that 80 million voters have broken with capitalist ideology and are ready for revolution. The Democratic Party serves as a safety valve to contain the multi-millionfold working class and oppressed nations. The Democrats promise their mass base relief from the worst of the capitalist system while the Wall Street billionaires keep firm control to make sure no substantive changes take place.
During the 2020 election campaign, and afterwards, many of Trump’s minions and the Republican Party itself, attacked the Biden-Harris ticket as “socialist” and “communist.” This is ridiculous in the extreme. Only a handful of the Democratic Party elected officials identify as socialist or democratic socialist. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are on the most conservative side of the Democratic Party spectrum. But the bizarre charge plays well with the miseducated and deluded right-wing base. It generates a knee-jerk reaction of hostility when the “socialist/communist” label is thrown before them.
The ruling class can do very well under a Biden-Harris Democratic administration – as long as they are able to keep the base of the party under control.
Times, however, are not “normal.” The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented economic crisis. Job losses in the tens of millions have devastated the working class. Evictions are being carried out across the nation despite the CDC moratorium which is set to expire December 31. The lack of health care, food and other necessities are widespread. It may not be a question of can a mass working class struggle suddenly emerge here in the U.S. It may be a question of when. And if it does erupt, it may break apart the electoral strait-jacket of the Democratic Party.
So maybe the right-wing Republicans are not that wrong in calling the Democratic Party “socialist.” Certainly not today or tomorrow will that be true. But the hidden class struggle, when it breaks out into the open, will bring together the broad working class, the African American and Latinx communities, and all the other people suffering oppression of one sort or another – not to vote for a weak candidate – but to fight for their very existence. Maybe the right-wing Republicans see that in their own twisted minds and are terrified of it – like they have been trained to be.
Just because the right-wing Republicans are seeing ghosts (specters) doesn’t mean that the specter of communism doesn’t also haunt Wall Street and the ruling class. And it doesn’t mean that the specter of communism can’t quickly take on flesh and blood.