Duncan Hallas

Is the American working class different?

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In this article from 1986, Duncan Hallas takes up the argument that the American working class has been historically immune to socialist ideas.

One of the most important developments over the last year has been the revival of radical movements in the US. The uprising in Wisconsin, the Occupy movement, the Oakland shutdown and now the protests over the killing of Trayvon Martin (see Jonathan Neale in this issue of Socialist Review) all point to a new mood. American workers have long presented an enigma for socialists.
Why has the most powerful working class in the world never been able to create even a mass Labour-type party (the Democratic Party has always been a purely capitalist party).

Hallas explains how the conditions of American capitalism initially acted to prevent the emergence of stable working class organisation and to limit the influence of socialist ideas, but argues this no longer applies.

The central question in discussing the American working class is why there is not, and has not been, a political labour movement of any significance in the United States. This is in spite of the fact that the US is today the major capitalist power in the world and has been, since the turn of the century, one of the two or three major capitalist powers.

There are a number of explanations put forward. The first set of arguments are what you might call the "sociological" arguments. They can all be found in letters which Engels wrote to various people in America in the 1880s.

The Fight for Revolution

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How do working people win improvements in their lives, and how do they hold on to them?

This is one of the biggest questions facing socialists today. Take the defence of the National Health Service, which concerns millions of people. The NHS is a very good example of a past reform. It did not exist until 1948. Its introduction was vigorously opposed by conservative forces. It was very much in the interests of the great mass of the people, and especially of working class people. It was also, from the beginning, something of a compromise, but a compromise more in our favour than otherwise. Of course, not everything described as a reform is anything of the kind.

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