With the death of neoliberalism in the United States, many Americans are reawakening and turning to social democracy as an alternative. The allure of social democratic policies in a hardline neoliberal society that has repressed anti-capitalism for over a century is incredibly enticing. The appeals of universal healthcare, free higher education, better safety nets, a livable minimum wage, and so forth is drawing millions of working class Americans towards the reformist ideology. But just as neoliberalism collapsed under it’s own internal contradictions, social democracy will then too collapse — and that is something Americans are going to have to eventually confront as the inevitable reality that it is.
This is not the first time social democratic policies have been offered in the limelight of American politics. Between 1933 to 1938, Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted a series of social democratic policies due to pressure from below. Some of the policies included establishing the minimum wage, abolishing child labor, creating social security, etc. These policies were — and still are — incredibly popular among Americans. But it seems as Americans begin to awaken from their neoliberal coma, they have not articulated the struggle between capital and labor that has occurred since the New Deal.
The social democratic policies of the New Deal have been torn down and eroded by the American bourgeoisie (via the Democratic and Republican parties) over the last century. Whether it was with trickle-down economics, a wide range of bipartisan austerity measures, or “the end of welfare as we know it”, the American bourgeoisie has won a century of the struggles between capital and labor. But the crucial question we need to be asking is: why were they successful at dismantling a large portion of the New Deal?
We can say it’s because of money in politics. We can say it’s because of repression of anti-capitalists during the 20th century. We can say it’s because of many reasons, and they would all be valid. But then at some point, we must ask ourselves a set of deeper questions: Why did Citizen’s United get decided that way? Why was Glass-Steagall repealed? Why did the repression of anti-capitalists happen? At that point, we begin to confront the fundamental reason why the American bourgeoisie has successfully been able to dismantle social democratic policies that the vast majority of Americans support. There is one fundamental reason and that is because when Roosevelt enacted the New Deal, he did not attempt or want to transform society and how we organized the means of production.
The repression of anti-capitalists during the 20th century, the reason Citizen’s United was decided that way, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the erosion of social programs is, at the root, the inevitable result in a society with the capitalist mode of production.
Our workplaces are organized in a hierarchical, anti-democratic, and authoritarian fashion where the fruits of our labor — the profits — are stolen from us and centralized in the hands of the capitalist class. To keep themselves in that dominant position, they spend that money in several peculiar ways. Some of it goes to political parties and politicians that will support policies that will give benefits like tax breaks. Some of it goes to organizations, media outlets, and think tanks to promote propaganda of neoliberalism, red scares, etc. In any of the various ways that the profits are used, they are used specifically to make themselves wealthier — and to make you poorer.
Let me give you one specific example:
The bourgeoisie systematically repressed anti-capitalists in the United States by using their profits that they stole from working class Americans to target the New Deal coalition that forced FDR to enact the New Deal. They knew that FDR was one of them and that the real problem were the anti-capitalists. Their first target was the weakest target; they promoted anti-communist and anti-Soviet propaganda. After they repressed the communists with propaganda and legislation like the Communist Control Act of 1954 and made Americans fear communists as if they’re human embodiments of the apocalypse, they went to the American people through the media and said: “Well, the socialists and unionists, they’re the same thing as communists. The only difference is that they spell it differently. ”
The country was flooded with anti-socialist propaganda that painted everybody who was not a neoliberal as either a “red menace” or a “commie sympathizer”. The television shows, movies, newspapers, the government, etc — the entire country from every outlet was flooded with anti-socialist propaganda, smear campaigns, and legislation. The Palmer Raids, California Criminal Syndicalism Act, Executive Order 9835, Red Scares, House Un-American Activities Committee, Levering Act, Red Squads, Smith Act, COINTELPRO — need I continue?
One by one the American bourgeoisie used their profits to systematically repress anti-capitalists by flooding America with propaganda, misinformation, conflations, and lies. Now the American people live in a society where millions of people genuinely believe Keynesian economics is exactly the same as Marxism and believe free markets are a capitalist phenomenon even though free markets existed in feudal economies, slave economies, etc.
Laborers are disempowered by capitalism in order to empower the capitalists, to keep themselves in the dominant position— because of this, labor cannot always go on defending the social programs from the capitalist class. The American working class people historically have won social democratic policies but because the means of production were not democratized and transformed and because the state remained under control of the bourgeoisie, the system that remained aided the bourgeoisie in re-centralizing their wealth and piece by piece, they dismantled the New Deal.
There is a strange irony in the reality that as social democracy grows in America because neoliberalism self-destructed, social democracy is self-destructing in Europe because labor cannot go on defending itself and its achievements when the means of production remain capitalist.
Americans should look to what is happening in Europe as a hint of their possible future. As Americans struggle between neoliberalism and an alternative, you must look both at the historical reality in America and also what is happening in Europe and elsewhere.