Educational Notes for “Faultlines Political Logics of the US Party System” by Dylan Riley

Communist Party of Indiana CPUSA


Educational Presented January 31, 2021

(With some reference to the ideas of Mike Davis)

“The goal is a realignment of power within the Party with more traditional capitalist interest groups like NAM and the Business Roundtable as well as with the Koch family, long uncomfortable with Trump. There should be no illusion that ‘moderate Republicans’ have suddenly been raised from the grave; the emerging project will preserve the core alliance between Christian evangelicals and economic conservatives and presumably defend most of the Trump-era legislation” – Mike Davis

“First and most importantly, the two political parties are constituted by coalitions … both at the top—the big donors, higher-level elected representatives and party officials—and, to a certain extent, at mass level. With stagnant secular-growth rates, the party struggle in the us has become to a large extent a zero-sum redistributive conflict, which explains the extreme severity with which it is carried out. This structural condition shapes a further feature: the personalization, or charismatic inflection, of political leadership, underpinned by the presidential system.” – Dylan Riley, “Faultlines…”

“[There] a contrast of political logics—programmatic ideologies, aiming to mobilize a range of class fractions and interest groups—which cannot be reduced to the two parties, although it overlaps with them. We might call them multicultural neoliberalism, on the one hand, and macho-national neomercantilism on the other … closely related … is the contrast between two rival geo-political logics: globalized liberalism versus America First. What follows, then, is an attempt to provide an initial sounding of the deep fractures or fault-lines that structure us politics.” – ibid

I Ruling-class coalitions constructed mass bases by arguing that their particular interests could satisfy the material needs of at least a fraction of direct producers

  1. From 1865 to the 1920s, Republicans ministered to the needs of heavy industry, which constituted the basis of mass employment and rising wages for the working class of the Northeast
  2. From the 1930s until 1980 the Democrats were able to play this role, on the basis of a coalition of capital-intensive industries able to make limited but real concessions to the militant working class of the period.

II These patterns operated across long historical cycles, in which the political logic of one or other party was able to set the national agenda, even as the White House might alternate

III Change after 1980

A Political power, rather than investment and accumulation, began to play an increasingly direct role in securing rates of return for capital

B US politics continued to play out on the consolidated ground of neoliberalism throughout the 90s and early 2000s, until the crisis of 2008

IV Nature of the coalitions both parties mobilized

A Republicans

  1. ‘Dirty’ manufacturing, the extractive industries, big retail, food services and large-scale family firms
  2. Republican strength among those without a college degree is high and durable. This does not mean that gop support derives exclusively from the working class—much of it comes from traditional petit-bourgeois layers, including ‘managers, small-business owners, mid-level white-collar workers

B Democrats

  1. Strong support from the high-tech giants of Silicon Valley, the education, information, arts and entertainment sectors, and elite professionals: media and university intellectuals, lawyers, engineers and other proponents of the use of science to guide public policy.
  2. A huge advantage among those with college degrees; education, health care and social assistance, which employs nearly a quarter of the workforce

C At the very top, both parties are beholden to the fire sector—finance, insurance and real estate; fire alone employs almost 10 million people: over 6 per cent of the economically active population.

V. Types of Redistribution

A Republicans are oriented to forms of state largesse like farm subsidies, handouts to small business and protectionist trade tariffs. In place of credentialing, the Republican base demands other forms of social closure based on race, nationality and citizenship status. Accordingly they demand restrictions on immigration and a general defence of borders and citizenship—measures that enable redistribution within the native population alone

B The huge high-tech and entertainment companies that support the Democratic Party are interested in the protection of ‘intellectual property rights;’ the college educated have an interest in policies that reward expertise, which often entail public expenditure

VI Emergence of charismatic elite-electoral relations

A A visceral personal admiration or loathing for celebrity candidates has supercharged political struggle

B For both parties, this extreme personalization of politics is the obverse of the lack of any program to reconfigure the economy to restart growth.

  1. Difference between celebrity charisma in both parties
  1. Democrats have a highly credentialled, meritocratic style
  2. Trump’s style of rule appealed directly to an anti-credentialing base He operated mostly through informal verbal commands and saw his staff as a group of table companions rather than institutionally defined officials. This produced an immediate push-back from the professional civil service, against whom Trump waged unrelenting war, exemplified by his administration’s attempt to strip civil-service protections from thousands of Federal employees as the culmination of a project to purge ‘bad people’ who are part of the ‘deep state.’ The instability of this mode of rule was indexed by the constant churning of staff and lack of loyalty evinced by ex-White House employees.
  3. Despite their differences, both styles of charismatic rule act to elevate the leader as a totem for the entire redistributive coalition: Obama for those with college degrees, Trump for those without.

VI. Different Political Logics

  1. Democrats transformed Anti-racism and affirmative action from a social form to an individual form, leading to the rise of ‘equity, diversity and inclusion’ bureaucracies in both academia and the corporate sphere. Here, groups of ‘personnel professionals’ fought for a set of best practices, now casting anti-discrimination arguments in market terms: companies ‘would not remain competitive if they could not figure out how to use the talents of all kinds of workers’ signaling the beginning of the close linkage of the diversity bureaucracy with neoliberalism, which continues today; increasing diversity—is entirely compatible with maintaining, and indeed worsening, inequality in economic terms
  2. California offers a template for a capitalist society informed by this logic. This huge and immensely wealthy state has been run for decades by the liberal-progressive wing of the Democratic Party. What has its record been? California has an inequality index higher than Mexico, the highest poverty rate in the country, an aging population, a housing market out of reach of most middle- and working-class people, and poor public schools. It provides fewer and fewer working-class jobs as its industrial structure becomes increasingly concentrated in the glitzy Bay Area–Silicon Valley technology hub. This is roughly the model that multicultural neoliberalism offers the us.
  3. The dominant political logic of the current Republican Party starts from a recognition of declining job prospects and deteriorating public services, but goes on to offer a hard-nationalist analysis and a neo-mercantilist response. The former was articulated by Jefferson Sessions, Trump’s first Attorney -General, in the National Review. ‘The last forty years have been a period of uninterrupted large-scale immigration into the us, coinciding with increased joblessness, falling wages, failing schools, and a growing welfare state’, Sessions wrote. Only a sharp reduction in legal and illegal immigration would ‘allow assimilation to occur, and help the millions struggling here today’. To this anti-immigrant core, macho-national neomercantilism adds the notion of ‘energy sovereignty’—unleashing the fossil-fuel industry to lay the foundations for a new phase of economic growth—combined with protectionist tariffs.
  4. Two problems have plagued this project from the beginning. First, the claim that immigration is the cause of American economic decline fails the elementary test of comparison. While it might just be plausible to trace a correlation between the long downturn and the post-1965 immigration regime, the notion that immigration was causal is belied by the enormous 1880s–1920s first wave of mass immigration, which coincided with the rise of the us as an industrial powerhouse. Second, the energy sector, just like every other sector of the world economy, is plagued by serious problems of oversupply and overcapacity. There is little chance that a renewed push for energy sovereignty could generate a new round of capital accumulation. Although the Trump Administration could rip up numerous environmental regulations, it didn’t succeed in developing a plausible economic model that could generate self-sustaining economic growth and decently rewarded jobs. Its economic record, even before the onset of the covid-19 recession, was hardly impressive
  5. It would be a mistake to equate these logics in a one-to-one fashion with the two parties. Rather, each party has unevenly combined elements of both.
  6. The Democratic Party is the reverse of the Republicans. While multicultural neoliberalism still predominates, in partial recognition of the limitations of ‘equity’, after the shocks of the last four years, some have sought a kind of neo-Keynesian economic nationalism to the project. Thus, in a recent piece in Foreign Policy, Jennifer Harris and Jake Sullivan—both high-ranking Obama-era State Department officials, Sullivan recently nominated as Biden’s National Security Adviser—call for a new industrial policy and greater spending on infrastructure to meet the China challenge. Ruy Teixeira, co-author of The Emerging Democratic Majority (2002), writing for American Compass, a new conservative website, has called for the Democrats to reject ‘militant identity politics, climate catastrophism, “growth-phobia” and techno-pessimism’ in favor of a better model of capitalism and ‘an economy that delivers abundance for all’

VII. The emergence of a democratic-socialist logic inside the Democratic Party

  1. The dsa membership largely consists of ‘downwardly mobile millennials’: 60 per cent have either a masters, PhD or professional degree, while only 3 per cent have a blue-collar job. Sanders’s 2016 run was quite competitive among white workers, while in 2020 he was far more successful among Latino workers in California and Nevada, beating Biden in both.
  2. Nevertheless, his core support is low-status or precarious professionals with bas but not post-graduate degrees. In 2020 the largest group of contributors to his campaign was software engineers.
  3. It’s key ideas include progressive taxation, public infrastructure spending, a national health-insurance scheme and expanded public services. This is a more substantial project than ‘equity’, as it seeks to address inequality itself. Strikingly, however, this too is a redistributive project: Sanders calls insistently for ‘massive material redistribution, funded by corporate profits

IX Commonalities

The dominant political logics, have important features in common, reflecting the major interests of the giant banking and non-financial corporations that support both party coalitions. bipartisan support for a core macro-economic agenda of politically mediated transfers: tax and regulatory legislation, Fed provision of ultra-cheap money for the financial sector to leverage, no-strings public bailouts for key corporations and so forth. despite different foreign-policy emphases in practice their imperial strategies have a good deal in common. The incoming Biden Administration’s ghostwriters put it in ‘Why America Must Lead Again’, his January 2020 manifesto in Foreign Affairs, the priorities are, first, to ensure that China does not become a global power; second, to abandon misguided attempts at transformation in the Middle East while securing the US’s key geopolitical interests in the region and taking advantage of Trump’s pressure on Iran to conclude an even tougher nuclear deal; and third, to re-establish good relations with NATO allies

IX Trump’s residue

  1. Tax cuts
  2. Judicial appointments
  3. China policy
  4. Immigration policy

X Some Conclusions

  1. Very little changed with this election; in some areas worsened
  1. Loss of seats in house
  2. Failure to obtain a clear majority in senate (However, Georgia was an astounding victory notwithstanding)
  3. St Joseph County, used in college level textbooks as one of country’s 10 tightest DP machines, went for Trump. All county commissioners now Republican though there is a veto proof majority on county council
  4. Indiana will continue to be gerrymandered to Republican supermajorities

B Georgia victory single greatest victory in South in our later lives, on a par with Civil Rights movement. Arguably refers back to Southern forms of resistance after Republican betrayal of Reconstruction

  1. E.g. Readjuster Party (Black/poor white farmer coalition) governed Virginia for four years, until 1884
  2. Republican (here meaning Black) Populist Fusion Governments so strong in Wilmington NC, had to be overthrown by white armed coup.

C Concerning the party system

  1. Republicans have realigned, removed the “Trump Cult” monkey off their back, and intend to rule through
  1. Control of Federal judiciary
  2. One blue dog senator and Mitch McConnel controls Senate
  3. Continued rule through ALEC designed gerrymandering
  4. The Electoral college will never be abolished under them.
  5. We can expect future elections will resemble the 2020 election
  6. There will be no opening to third parties; for the Republicans this danger would be the Patriot Party formed by Trump (Which may be wrested from him down the line; time will tell)

2 Democrats will never do anything progressive again except where this is deemed intrinsically necessary to the FIRE agenda. So we may have tinkering to the ACA, but no opening to Social Democrats or legal opening to third party.

a For the foreseeable future. “progressives, including DSAers will continue to run on the DP ballot line; there is no alternative

b. They may be able to elected, even in great numbers, but will be frozen out of any decisive roles unless the DP needs to CYA

c There needs to be a discussion of the surrogate party idea; this needs to be a separate educational

d. The demographics of the working class will continue to favor the DP to the extent the working class and minority communities vote. (See diagram below.)

XI Options

A The CP will be outnumbered by DSA; what will our role be in the new situation?

B The only thing we can say for certain is that despite depression levels of business closure, unemployment, homelessness, lack of medical coverage, unfettered racism, the Republicans will use their locked in position’s legislative imbalance to try to enforce a regime of unparalleled austerity, and the Democrats lack the will and courage to challenge them. The Patriot Party will seek to extend itself in the chaos. This despite every left -wing and progressive organization’s pledge to pressure Biden, “to hold his feet to the fire.”

C We need to figure how to position ourselves, what kind of movement will be our lever to tip the balance. We can expect virtually no help from labor as such, although individual locals, CLCs, JwJs may help us.

D We need to grab onto the Party’s initiative to do unemployment organizing; nobody else is going to do it, and we need to do it with deadly seriousness. This is the Communist Plus of this moment. We need to do while also participating in the attempts to pressure the governments at all levels, and also in the electoral struggle

The old option of Socialism or Barbarism is now Socialism or Extinction. There’s no room for failure here. The times call out for a Communist Party, and we’re it, Comrades.