Here is a partial list of the major strikes that occurred in the US between 1931 and the 1936.
Harlan County Miners strike
The Bonus March
California pea pickers
Tennessee Coal miners
Ford Hunger march
Detroit Tool & Die
Hormel strike in Iowa
New Mexico Miners
Cotton workers in Pixley
Imperial Valley farm workers
Minneapolis General Drivers Strike
San Fransisco General Strike
Sit-down strikes in Flint, Atlanta and other places.
Of these, several things stand out: The Minneapolis and San Francisco strikes placed directly on the agenda the question of State Power, by shutting down those cities and putting control of the daily functioning in the hands of the workers for a short period.
The sit-down strikes posed the question of ownership of the factories by the simple expedient of occupying them.
The two questions: ownership of the factories, and state power, form the essence of the question of socialism.
The Minneapolis strike was led by Trotskyists of the Socialist Workers Party; other strikes were led by self-declared Communists.
Now, I suppose, from a distance of 80 years, an academic might make the case that socialist revolution was never really on the agenda; but that supposed academic would not be able to deny two things: Millions of workers thought it was, and the leading representatives of capitalism also thought it was. And, for the record, I think it was, too.
If you’re a capitalist, and socialist revolution is staring you in the face, you have a couple of choices: you can directly confront them and attempt to institute a fascist dictatorship, or you can attempt to buy them off—assuming you have something to buy them off with.
Which way would they go? Well, there were no shortage of charismatic fascist demagogues spouting populist antisemitic and racist filth. Father Coughlin comes to mind, and the Silver Legion of America. Pick one as a leader, go for direct confrontation and hope to hell the army was with them? Or try to buy off the working class with resources they didn’t actually have? For capitalism, that was the choice: Roosevelt, or Father Coughlin.
In the end, they chose to borrow against the future and try buying them off. In 1932, they had selected Roosevelt to run their system. As the militancy of the labor movement grew, the capitalists became more desperate, the workers more confident, reaching out to the unemployed, tearing down racial barriers even in the south through the Trade Union Unity League. It was a scary time to be a capitalist. The Communist Party, however, was now fully Stalinized and had become essentially an arm of Soviet Diplomacy. Stalin offered Roosevelt a simple deal: Recognize the USSR in exchange for the support of all of the Communist Party led unions, and the strong support the Communist Party had developed among the unemployed and among “Negroes” in the South, who they’d been organizing with some success.
The deal was made, the Communist Party became Roosevelt’s biggest fan, capitalism was preserved, and certain improvements were “given” to the working class, such as a minimum wage and official recognition of the right to organize for collective bargaining.
And capitalism continued. To this day, liberals look to Roosevelt as a great hero of America, which he certainly was, to capitalism. After all, look at all of the benefits given to the working class and the poor: social security, welfare, unemployment insurance.
Roosevelt did it. He saved capitalism. Because of him, private profit is still the guiding force behind every decision.
For every drone that kills an Afghan child, thank Roosevelt.
For every refugee fleeing American bombs, thank Roosevelt.
For every family driven from its home by unemployment, thank Roosevelt.
For every death that could have been prevented if medical care were freely available, thank Roosevelt.
For every unarmed poor or working class person shot down by police, thank Roosevelt.
For every failure to find a solution to climate change because doing so conflicts with profit, thank Roosevelt.
For every effort to stir up racial hatred in order to keep the working class from uniting, thank Roosevelt.
Bernie Sanders, for all his talk of socialism, is essentially a New Deal Democrat. In my judgment, he’s a New Deal Democrat at a time when capitalism has no future to borrow against, and, with the best of intentions, I do not think he has any chance to pull off what FDR did. Moreover, I think he’s just in the race to throw his support to Clinton, who represents that section of the capitalist class that hopes they can just hang on for a few more years without settling anything. But hey, I could be wrong. Maybe the ruling class is desperate enough to try for a Sanders, or, going for direct and open confrontation, a Trump. And it’s possible that my understanding of economics is flawed, and Sanders really could win the nomination, and the presidency, and buy U.S. capitalism another decade or two of bombs, unemployment, climate change, racism, and hopelessness. Wouldn’t that be great? No? I don’t think so either.