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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

SOCIALISM: A BOO-WORD IN AMERICAN POLITICS

Today's Buggy Topic

The subject-title above only hints, really, at the far more ambitious buggy commentary today --- a ranging summary of several prof bug posts here at the buggy web site a few years ago, all adding up to a probing effort to show why the US has never had any strong socialist traditions in its political history: whether Marxist or otherwise.  In this respect, the US is unique among all advanced industrial countries these days --- whether in Europe, Asia, or the English-speaking democracies.

The English-Speaking Countries

In Britain, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand, Marxism never had much influence either.  All these countries, though, had a Labor Party, shaped originally in Australia (1891) and in Britain 9 years later.  Not only was it not Marxist revolutionary, unlike all the other socialist parties of the day --- whether in theoretical commitment or practice --- but when, a few years after the Labour Party originated in 1900, it sought to join the Marxist Second International, its application was held up for months.  The reason?  To the Continental European socialists, British Labour never subscribed to class-warfare, let alone the notion that socialism could only emerge victorious in capitalist societies by means of ultimate revolution. 

In the end, a compromise was reached.  The British Labour Party, it was said, subscribed to the notion of "class struggle", but not "class warfare." 

Later, at the end of WWI, the entire Socialist International split.  The radical wings of Socialist parties joined the Communist Third International, a tool of the Soviet CP from the outset.  Those socialists who condemned the Communist seizure of power in Russia and the imposition of CP dictatorship formed their own Social Democratic International.  Later, all these Social Democratic Parties --- starting with the Swedish party in the early 1930s, then after WWII all of them in West Europe --- not only formally renounced ultimate socialist revolution as a goal, but (with the exception of the French Socialists) went further and formally disowned the goal of state control of the economy.

Australia and Canada

Like the British Labour Party, the Australian Labour Party still survives as one of the two major parties in that country.  And like the British Labour party, it always was democratic and evolutionary, and like Labour too in the 1990s, it even backed away noticeably --- like Tony Blair's governments after 1997 in Britain --- from supporting a large welfare state.

Canada's Labour Party was short-lived.  Founded in 1917, it last only about a decade and never made much progress in national elections.  A socialist tradition does live on, though, in some of the western provinces under different party names, but nationally Canada's major party system has been dominated on the Left by the Liberal Party . . . with powerful roots in especially Quebec and the eastern provinces.  The Liberals essentially ruled Canada for 3/4 of the period from the late 1950s until early in the current decade, moving the country to what looked like a Continental EU welfare-state. 

That leaves the News Zealand Labour Party.

Its roots go back to the start of th 20th century, and its evolution as one of the two major parties in its country parallels in most respects the fairly flexible, non-Marxist doctrines and up-dated commitments to largely free markets that mark the history of the British and Australian Labour Parities.

Why the US Is An Exception

The causal influences that prevented the US working-class and farming population --- and most intellectuals --- from espousing a British-like Labour Party, never mind a Marxist socialist one, are multiple and heavily rooted in the history of our country.  Seeing that the buggy post on this topic --- left at a very good web site, Economist's View (run by a moderate centrist economist) --- sets out the reasons carefully in two long commentaries last week, there's no need to say more here by way of introduction. 

Click here for the buggy stuff.