Two poles of an evil duopoly

December 8, 2016

Why do the Democratic and Republican Parties seem to take turns as the dominant force in mainstream U.S. politics? Keith Rosenthal suggests an answer.

THE DEMOCRATS and Republicans are not identical evils. But they are complementary evils. These two timeworn political institutions form distinct but dialectically interconnected parts of an oppressive whole. Each one simultaneously opposes and reinforces the other. The ascendance of one conditions the eventual ascendance of the other.

It is akin to the way in which the inhalation and the exhalation of air through the lungs are two distinct and opposing phenomena, whose tandem manifestation is premised upon the momentary negation of the other, but whose proper functioning maintains both the existence of the organism as a whole and thus the existence of precisely its opposing phenomenon.

The Democrats undeniably pursue policies less outrageously reactionary than the Republicans. But because the left and the working class so often remain, for one reason or another, enthralled and disempowered under the banner of the Democrats, the latter are able to get away with their fair share of such odious and reactionary policies that otherwise would draw vehement opposition from the left if a Republican were in power.

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Consequently, the independent organizations and integrity of the left and the working class atrophy and weaken under the reign of the Democrats.

This phenomenon has taken an especially dangerous form within the last half-century or so, as neoliberal-driven austerity and incessant attacks on the social welfare of working-class and oppressed people have become the guiding imperative of both liberal and conservative governments throughout the world capitalist system.

Upon taking power in such circumstances, the Democrats, as liberal but dutiful administrators of capitalist imperatives, inevitably lose favor with the populace and face the prospect of defeat at the polls as the electorate registers its displeasure the only way it can in a closed two-party system, by voting for the opposing party.

Insofar as the left, by supporting the Democrats, finds itself defending, aligning with, apologizing for and ignoring the evils of its would-be friends in office, it increasingly loses all independent credibility and cohesion. Consequently, as the Democrats prepare the ground for the potential pendulum-swing victory of the Republicans in the coming years, the left renders itself disarmed, disorganized and wholly unprepared to effectively counter the coming reactionary onslaught.

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In effect, the whole process proceeds like this: The Democrats win and the left hands over its weapons and demobilizes its troops; the Democrats repress the most radical elements of the left and the most marginalized sections of its so-called base among the oppressed masses while the bulk of the left quietly assents; the Democrats then open the door through which the Republicans storm in and mop up the disorganized left and pursue a blitzkrieg offensive against the working class; the Republicans make as much headway as quickly as they can until they overreach and inevitably lose popularity; the whole process resets after the Republicans are tossed out in favor of the Democrats.

WHEN THE balance sheet is drawn, we are left with these two counterposed phenomena: The Democrats pursue policies that are less reactionary, but these policies also draw less organized opposition from their victims and from the left, which meanwhile atrophies. The Republicans pursue policies that are more reactionary, but these policies draw far more organized opposition from their victims and from the left, which meanwhile grows.

Of course, deviations from this tendency are possible. The reign of the Republicans may lead to further demoralization and disintegration of an already disoriented left. Conversely, the Democrats' reign may lead to a further radicalization and growth of the left, provided it maintains a coherent posture of opposition to the party in power.

Additionally, the tendency toward a pendulum-like transfer of power from one party to the other hasn't always operated mechanically and without interruption over the course of the 150-year life span of the modern Republican and Democratic political duopoly. Countervailing factors like world war and prolonged economic boom have historically served to prolong a given party's hold on power.

Nonetheless, the subjective variable factor in all of these eventualities remains the left and the working class, and the strategies and forms of conscious organization adopted by both.

It is clear that the long-term fates of both depend on a willingness to "go its own way;" to commit to the project of building struggle, political consciousness and organized opposition to whichever of the two ruling capitalist parties happens to be in power.

The consequence of refusing to engage in the long-term process of building up the class independence of the working class--which spans the partisan pendulum swings of quadrennial elections--is that both are condemned to ever remain fettered by the lead-strings of other, ruling classes.

The point is that it is the duality, the duopoly, itself which is the evil. And neither of the polarities in this situation is capable of abolishing the process. Only the gestation and eruption of an entirely new vector can burst through the suffocating bounds of the prevailing reality. Fundamental progress in the U.S. at this moment in history depends entirely on our ability to bring about precisely this occurrence.

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