November 10, 2020
My friends know me as an italophile; and it is with a moment in modern Italian history that I begin this little essay: 1953, the year of the “legge truffa.” The legge truffa — literally, the ‘fraud law’ — was a law that the then-ruling Christian Democratic Party (DC) rammed through Parliament ahead of the 1953 general election. The law would have given any party or coalition that received 50% of the vote in a national election an automatic 65% majority in Parliament. The DC and its allies — the Social Democrats, Republicans and Liberals — billed it as a ‘stability’ law. Most observers, however, saw it as an attempt to shut the Left out of power by creating a ‘soft’ dictatorship.
In the 1953 general elections, the DC and its partners fell just two-tenth of one percent short of the 50% bar. All the coalition parties took a beating, while the forces leading the fight against the legge truffa — the Italian Communist and Socialist Parties — made big gains. Yet by themselves, those gains would not have been enough to keep the DC and its allies from hitting 50%. A third force, consisting of the parties ‘People’s Unity’ and ‘National Democratic Alliance’, made their own contribution to the cause, bringing in a miniscule 1% of the vote.
Who were People’s Unity and the National Democratic Alliance? People’s Unity was founded by Ferruccio Parri, an ex-partisan who, following the passage of the legge truffa, led a split in the small, rightwing Republican Party. Popular Unity got 0,6% of the vote in the election. The NDA formed from a similar dissident split within the even-more-rightwing Liberal Party; the NDA got just 0,4% of the vote. Together, these two small, far-right (though still antifascist) parties sealed the defeat of the legge truffa, which was repealed in the very next legislature.
I was reminded of this story as I looked at the 2020 Presidential vote returns from key states around our country. Take a look at this list:
I don’t think it takes a mathematical whiz to see something interesting here: but for Jo Jorgensen and his Libertarian Party, Trump would have won Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona — and won himself a second term in the Presidency. Instead, just like People’s Unity and the NDA, the Libertarians did a service to democracy by drawing off just enough votes to put Biden over the top in these critical states.
Food for thought, eh?
And on the topic of ‘food for thought’…
We are all aware that there is a shouting match going on within the Democratic Party — a shouting match which is just the prelude to a long battle between the Progressives and Moderates, between the AOC-Tliab-Sanders wing and the Biden-Clinton-Obama wing. The Moderates accuse the Progressives of costing the Democrat Party seats in the House; but here, too, a reality check is in order. If Biden won in Nevada, it is because Culinary Union 226 members — who defied their leadership and voted en masse for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Primary — worked their heart out for Biden in the general election. If Biden did better than HRC in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, it was because of the work done in those states by Sanders supporters, Black Lives Matter activists and Labor. If Biden became the first Democrat since Bill Clinton to win in Georgia, he has one person to thank for it: a firebrand by the name of Stacey Abrams. If Biden is on his way to the White House today, there is no doubt that he also has the Left to thank for it.
Interesting, Myke, but what do those two things have in common? Let’s see…
In the 1990s, a bastard of a US sociologist, Seymour Lipsett, became famous in Washington circles for trying to export a unique brand of democracy to South America. Lipsett argued that the only path to stable political systems in Latin America was through the ‘Americanization’ of their bodies politic.
Rather than battle over the allocation of national resources, he said, let them learn an unstinting allegiance to a flag and battle over that, in the same way that so many of us fight over a football team, a basketball team, a particular place to get wings or fries.
The struggle for democracy and for socialism is not a messianic quest of ‘good’ against ‘evil,’ ‘us’ against ‘them.’ Socialism is not a religious faith: like democracy, it is a practical solution to some very, very real problems.
Democracy is what broke the feudal chokehold over Europe in the 18th Century, making the Industrial Revolution possible; and, up until now, it has kept Corporate America from strangling our peoples in the USA. Our democratic institutions have sustained a political space for Labor and Black organizing, from ‘Bleeding Kansas’ forward. Without that space and those movements, the US would long ago have acquired a political dictatorship to match its economic one.
Socialism is democracy carried into the economic sphere. It addresses the very real problem that, while all of us work our hearts out in this country, with the world’s highest levels of productivity, only a very few of us see any benefits from that labor. Democratizing the world of work is the only answer to this problem, and there are plenty of people who understand that fact intuitively without ever having read Marx, Mao, Lenin, DuBois or Trotsky.
There have been times in the US when the Corporate Capitalists have been able to guarantee good living conditions for a chunk of the working class — to build a political majority, for the purpose of paralyzing the push for socialism. In such times, the response of much of the Left was to rail against workers, to label us ‘traitors,’ etc. But even in such periods, workers made up the backbone of the progressive movement. It was workers, Black and white, with their hundreds of thousands of manhours of strikes — as well as with their protests in the streets — who brought an end to the Vietnam War. It was workers who made up the social base of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and who secured the Consent Decrees of the 1970s. And to those who say, ‘but that was the middle class’ — what was the middle class, if not the children of the working class, living the illusion that they had been freed from the timeclock and the mill?
Perhaps if the Left then had been more united in participating in those struggles, it and the country would be in a different place today. Instead, there were important voices on the Left who condemned every struggle for a better life under capitalism as accomodationism — as if, in those periods, objective conditions made it possible to fight for anything but a better life under capitalism.
When Joe Biden took the stage in Wilmington the other night and declared his intent to ‘restore the middle class,’ he was making a promise he cannot keep. The ‘middle class’ was a product of Keynesianism, of the New Deal, of Corporate Capitalism’s investment in society to block any push for socialism. Yet the whole point of Reaganism, from the Gipper to the Orange Menace, has been to destroy the New Deal and go back to the cut-throat times of the 1880s. Why? Because Corporate America can no longer afford a New Deal — and because the New Deal was, from a political point of view, a failure.
Social systems do not change because people ‘will’ them to change. Social systems change because their economic systems hit hard limits that prevent them from meeting the normal demands of working people: income, healthcare, housing, schools, a basic right to their own person and their own body. In France in the 1700s, the inability of the French feudal class to tax itself — to create liquid wealth with which to feed and house the masses — created an immovable argument for Revolution. In Russia in the 1900s, the inability of the state to free the serfs created an immovable argument for Revolution. In the 1830s in the United States, the dire necessity of the Slaveocracy for land, land, land, created an immovable argument for Revolution. In Ulster in the 1970s, the inability of Britain to re-make the Northern Irish state created an immovable argument for Revolution. Today, in the United States, the inability of Corporate America to uproot systemic racism — another of Biden’s promises — and to guarantee that working people, including white working people, can live as human beings, creates an immovable argument for Revolution.
And now, for the ‘point’ of this essay:
When socialism comes to this country, it will come because people of all political faiths — left, right, center — find themselves, in the moment, before an immovable choice: between sets of proposals that clearly move their living conditions forward and sets of proposals that drive them back. In such moments, people move forward even in the face of deeply-held, cherished beliefs. This is what Charles Sumner meant when he said:
If this country is to keep its democracy and move forward to socialism, it will have to do so by convincing people throughout the political spectrum that democracy and socialism have solutions to needs that no other proposal can bring. If, on the other hand, we determine to wait for the day that the people of this country are ideologically wedded to those two proposals — democracy and socialism — we and our democratic institutions will wait forever — if we do not both die first.
Even a Parri or a Jorgensen can make an important contribution to the struggle.