Working-class America is anything but conservative

Often someone will tell you that something like universal healthcare is a good idea, but “it will never work here in conservative America.” This conjures images of a land full of only happy middle-class white people who are all content with their jobs and go to bed at 9 p.m.

Wrong. America’s history has been wracked by revolution. First, white settlers rebelled against the British government’s refusal to let them expand west during Bacon’s rebellion. Then the colonists threw off the British government over taxes. Shortly thereafter, there was Shay’s rebellion, which was over economics as well, and was crushed by the very people who led the previous revolution.

There were slave revolts and the semi-revolution against slavery known as the American Civil War. After that, the abuses of industrial capitalism created the conditions for two massive waves of labor revolt in the early 1900s, led mainly by the Industrial Workers of the World and the Socialist Party.

In the ’30s capitalism collapsed due to risky investing, no different from the sub-prime housing mortgage packages on which the economy has lately been running. That collapse caused a huge labor revolt again, led by the Communist Party. Everyone took a break to fight the fascists for a while, but after that, from 1945 to 1947, there was the largest labor revolt in American history, a little-known fact which set the stage for McCarthyist persecution of labor rebels.

America was seized by the prospect of revolution once more in the ’60s, not during a depression, but during an economic boom. Indeed there was no revolution but there were a number of desirable effects that could not have happened without such a shakeup, such as increasing expectations that blacks, women and gays would be given the same rights as everyone else.

Since then we’ve had the relatively dull ’70s and ’80s, dominated by trickle-up economics and cynicism. But things began to stir again in the ’90s with the rise of the UPS strike, the anti-globalization movement and increasing calls for a left-wing third party. Anyone who thinks there aren’t any popular movements against the system now has their eyes closed.

Are the Republicans losing Congress and having their administration torn apart person by person merely because conservatives have strayed from their principles? Not at all. Despite what some conservatives will tell you, imperialism has always been a conservative value. Scaring people into obedience using trumped-up coverage of overseas threats and black crime has always been a conservative value. Domestic spying has always been a conservative value. Big government has always been a conservative value, but only if we’re talking about the branches of the government that kill, beat and imprison people. Not to mention big business, which to the average person is much more of a plague than big government will ever be.

Undercutting the working class has always been a conservative value. Like good Machiavellians, they drape themselves in religion while violating its every tenet. Any “conservative” who truly feels differently should get some guts and quit the Republican Party. It is clearly dominated by “neo-conservatives,” which merely means conservatives who are more aggressive and more honest with themselves about their disgusting agenda.

As my father who recently quit the Republican Party has joked to me, President George W. Bush may be one of the best recruiting tools we socialists in the International Socialist Organization have ever had. It is not conservatives who have strayed from their principles, it is America who has strayed from the right. This is only a sign of things to come.

There is nothing inherently conservative about America. It is a real country with the same tensions and class struggles that all other countries have, not some mythical capitalist utopia. America still has rich people as well as working people like you and me who make them rich. Given time, that always drives people left.

The problem is that in conservative time periods like this one people usually don’t realize that history can change until they see it for themselves. But the change has come and it’s in the numbers. The American National Election Studies noted that in 1994, 36 percent of the population supported big government and 27 percent opposed it. In 2004, 43 percent favored big government and 20 percent opposed it. A Gallup poll in 2000 said that 59 percent of Americans believe it is the federal government’s responsibility to provide healthcare for all Americans. The same pollsters reported that this year, it is up to 69 percent (Thank you for “Sicko!,” Michael Moore!). A majority of Americans, 66 percent, disapprove of the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq. Many have repeatedly flooded the streets to make that message clear, as well as to declare their support for undocumented immigrants.

I have heard of right-wingers complaining about being a minority on campus. If they feel cold, alone, panicky and cut off from their base of support, they deserve every bit of it.

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