Posted by: Doug Henwood | November 3, 2010

The meaning of the election

You heard it here first (well maybe it was somewhere else, but I missed it): yesterday’s “historic wave” was of the same lasting significance as the “historic wave” of 2008—none. Or, more exactly, it’s another instance of the eternal recurrence of American politics, another iteration of the status quo. A country that’s rotting from the head, poisoned by alienation, plutocracy, and an aversion to thinking, careens from one idiocy to another, with the winning side celebrating its momentary triumph, and then it all goes sour in a few months.

Engels nailed it long ago:

There is no place yet in America for a third party, I believe. The divergence of interests even in the same class group is so great in that tremendous area that wholly different groups and interests are represented in each of the two big parties, depending on the locality, and almost each particular section of the possessing class has its representatives in each of the two parties to a very large degree, though today big industry forms the core of the Republicans on the whole, just as the big landowners of the South form that of the Democrats. The apparent haphazardness of this jumbling together is what provides the splendid soil for the corruption and the plundering of the government that flourish there so beautifully….

The small farmer and the petty bourgeois will hardly ever succeed in forming a strong party; they consist of elements that change too rapidly — the farmer is often a migratory farmer, farming two, three, and four farms in succession in different states and territories, immigration and bankruptcy promote the change in personnel, and economic dependence upon the creditor also hampers independence — but to make up for it they are a splendid element for politicians, who speculate on their discontent in order to sell them out to one of the big parties afterward.

The tenacity of the Yankees, who are even rehashing the Greenback humbug, is a result of their theoretical backwardness and their Anglo-Saxon contempt for all theory. They are punished for this by a superstitious belief in every philosophical and economic absurdity, by religious sectarianism, and by idiotic economic experiments, out of which, however, certain bourgeois cliques profit.

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Responses

  1. […] You heard it here first (well maybe it was somewhere else, but I missed it): yesterday’s “historic wave” was of the same lasting significance as the “historic wave” of 2008—none. Or, more exactly, it’s another instance of the eternal recurrence of American politics, another iteration of the status quo. A country that’s rotting from the head, poisoned by alienation, plutocracy, and an aversion to thinking, careens from one idiocy to another, with … Read More […]

  2. engels was pretty smart… if we know that the two parties can’t allow for a people’s victory, shouldn’t we be rejecting the two parties? this responsibility to both those who support and who reject third parties. binary thinking is the enemy

  3. Apparently my candidate, Howie Hawkins of the Green Party, got 56,000 votes; enough for the party’s candidates to be placed on the ballot automatically next time.

  4. […] Doug Henwood Yesterday’s “historic wave” was of the same lasting significance as the “historic wave” of 2008—none. Or, more exactly, it’s another instance of the eternal recurrence of American politics, another iteration of the status quo. A country that’s rotting from the head, poisoned by alienation, plutocracy, and an aversion to thinking, careens from one idiocy to another, with the winning side celebrating its momentary triumph, and then it all goes sour in a few months. Share/Bookmark […]

  5. I come back to read this every few hours… such lucidity. Thanks, Doug. As always, you’ve nailed it!

  6. Engels continues:

    “the American speculative mania and speculative opportunity are the chief levers that hold the native-born worker in bondage to the bourgeoisie. Only when there is a generation of native-born workers that cannot expect anything from speculation any more will we have a solid foothold in America.”

    Right! In their collective, pointy heart of hearts, the rank and file “believe” in this 234-year old “experiment”, i.e., 1) it CAN be rehabilitated, and 2) they WILL realize their own sack of gold–whether little or great.

    That is, the Ponzi scheme which the Protestant work ethic (having morphed and mutated into the tumescent grotesquerie we witness almost daily on, e.g., Capital Hill and in the boardrooms of the Fortune 500) delivered unto a post-Keynesian, cyber-linked world STILL holds out the promise of American-exceptionalism as too-good-to-be-true-returns-via-“the American Dream” if you’ll only WORK REALLY, REALLY, REALLY HARD.

    This was the ur-disseminating of the other (i.e., European) fascists’ ethic of Arbeit Macht Frei. And, as that pretense was later found out (as having nothing whatsoever to do with freedom, but, rather being a “final solution”) so, too, will the rank and file–America’s working class–see their own obituary writ large, a Faulkneresque American labor attending –and commenting upon–its own wake. Indeed, it is in its death throes as we write…

    Again, Engels:

    “Only when there is a generation of native-born workers that cannot expect anything from speculation any more…”

    The sheep are on their collective way to the abattoir. Yet, even now, they expect something more–a return on their investment in corrupt, corrupting Empire. After all–they’re due! Right?

    They should read–and understand–the Law of Large Numbers. Nothing is due. Only their demise is probable.

  7. A country that’s rotting from the head, poisoned by alienation, plutocracy, and an aversion to thinking, careens from one idiocy to another, with the winning side celebrating its momentary triumph

    Yep.

  8. Understanding the U.S. political scene today is not simply a matter of quoting Engels from some unspecified period 150 some years ago, especially as he was to move with some surprise to himself from the view of the U.S. as a swamp of small proprietorship (not incorrect for the mid 19th century), to the view of the U.S. as a fresh field in the working class struggle as it was to erupt with great drama in the 1880’s.

    Today the problem is precisely the contradiction between between the purely superstructural persistence of the 19th century world described by Engels and the vastly different infrastructural circumstances confronted today. A key variable in this persistence is American leftism, still ideologically trapped in the same 19th century fantasy world occupied by GW Bush’s dreams of an “ownership society”. But the contradiction does mean that the conditions for Engel’s admonition against a “third party” no longer apply.

    Things HAVE changed over 150 years, after all. It is to be a “left” part of today’s dismal nonsense to pretend otherwise.

  9. Matt Russo, since you seem to have insight the rest of us lack, please share.

  10. […] choice of whether one prefers to be poisoned or shot, as Doug Henwood points wrote in Left Business Observer following the mid-term elections: “A country that’s rotting from the head, poisoned by […]


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