The American Road to Socialism

by Isaac Marx on October 16, 2013

Radicals in the United States are up against the wealthiest, most powerful, most vicious, and most successful 1% the world has ever known. Any struggle against them and their interests short of revolution is bound to be a tough fight; unseating them and dismantling their social order is sure to be the toughest fight of all.

Among self-described revolutionaries, explicit discussion of this problem and its strategic implications for organizing is unfortunately rare, and so any material along these lines facilitates the development of a pragmatic, reality-based strategy for overturning the capitalist order in this country. Whatever its shortcomings, Paul Le Blanc’s essay, “The Third American Revolution: How Do We Get from a Capitalist Present to a Socialist Future?” should be understood as one contribution to that collective process; the late Peter Camejo’s essays “Comment on the North American Revolution” and “How to Make a Revolution in the United States” are two others.

The most frustrating aspect of Le Blanc’s essay is that he continually poses the right questions and raises the right issues but lapses into generalities that were equally valid in 1848 when the Communist Manifesto was issued; these truisms do not address the terrain we in the United States are forced to fight on today. Furthermore, his outline of how we get from a capitalist present to a socialist future contains no discussion of the present balance of class and social forces in the country, no appraisal of the existing left’s strengths and weaknesses; in short, he ignores the living, subjective elements of the “possibilities of socialism in the here-and-now.” And who can blame him? An honest assessment of the state of the left as well as its trajectory is far more likely to induce clinical depression than inspire anyone to dedicate their adult lives to winning a world without Wall Street.

The second most frustrating dimension of Le Blanc’s piece is that it bears no trace of the Earth-shaking upheavals of our time:

1) Workers and oppressed people south of the border have organized and fought back advancing neoliberalism first to a standstill and now to a full-blown retreat in a number of countries.

2) Well over 130,000 people have been killed toppling fascistic tyrants from Libya to Yemen, opening a new epoch of class struggle as labor and capital compete to win the battle of democracy.

Both sets of experiences are rich with political lessons for American radicals.

Revolution and Bourgeois Democracy

The first thing that should be said on the subject of a third American revolution is that people don’t make revolution because they want to but because they have to. Camejo spoke to this when he wrote that “revolutions are defensive.” We ought to bear this in mind before grandly proclaiming that the last resort of revolution is our first resort lest our heady declarations fall on Libyan, Syrian, Tunisian, Yemeni, Bahraini, or Egyptian ears. No other peoples on this planet know the terrible, gut-wrenching necessity that is revolution. For them, revolution is not a glorious abstraction learned by rote from a Marxist textbook but a grisly, bloody reality they were forced to endure on the path to victory over their oppressors. Until artillery shells land on our neighborhoods, fighter jets bomb our schools, and militias slaughter our friends and family, we don’t know what revolution is and who among us is and is not a revolutionary.

The sooner we stop play-acting and LARPing as if we do, the better.

Having established that revolution is not an end but a means and based on the Latin American and the Arab Spring experiences, a number of things follow:

1. Overturning the capitalist order in this country can only occur after decades of struggles by tens of millions of people in greater numbers, fighting at greater intensity, and through the creation of more effective militant organizations than during both the 1930s and 1960s, a tall order if there ever was one. As Le Blanc correctly noted:

“[T]here have been many eloquent socialists and militant labour insurgencies in this country and sometimes they have had significant impact – but they have never been strong enough, no matter how much they appealed to the great working-class majority, to replace the economic dictatorship of capitalism with the economic democracy of socialism.”

2. All means other than revolution must be exhausted first before tens and hundreds of millions will feel the burning desire and possess the necessary political consciousness and organization to storm the Winter Palace and inaugurate a socialist order.

3. If revolutions are defensive, born of unavoidable necessity, counter-revolutions are offensive, mothered by rapacious greed and fathered by fear. Only when the 1% cannot rule legally and legitimately through the existing mechanisms of America’s extremely bourgeois and terribly undemocratic bourgeois democracy – meaning the machinery of the federal, state, and local governments and the two-party duopoly that grows out of and rests on their monopoly over every lever of that machinery – will they attempt to maintain their rule illegally and illegitimately, by force. Only by stripping them their ability to govern within the framework of their own political system can anyone talk of revolution in the United States as a serious proposition rather than wishful thinking or ultra-left daydreaming.

Precipitating such a crisis is no easy feat. In fact, it has never been done in the modern industrial bourgeois democracies of the West. The political storms following World Wars One and Two as well as the Great Depression of the 1930s and the rebellions of the 1960s and 1970s left the rule of capital unshaken and largely uncontested in the United States and Western Europe.

Wanted: Roadmap, USA

The uncomfortable fact for revolutionaries is that we have never developed a rigorous, American-based strategy for transforming the terrain we are forced to fight on that outlines even in general terms how we plan on wresting power from the 1% and dealing with (never mind dismantling) the country’s existing institutions, from school boards and city councils to the Democratic Party. There has never been an American equivalent of Lenin’s 1905 Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution that guided the Bolsheviks to victory in 1917. Instead, we’ve either winged it in the hope of someday, somehow being in a position to win a country without capital or tried to force-fit successful strategies developed for conditions elsewhere into our conditions, from Moscow’s Communist International (Comintern) to victorious guerilla armies in Asia and Latin America.

Lenin began to grasp the inadequacy of revolutionary strategy for the West’s bourgeois democracies in his last speech to the Comintern, after the hopes of millions of worker-radicals for Russia-style revolutions elsewhere were smashed thanks to a combination of inexperience, cunning counter-revolutions, and mistakes emanating from Moscow. In this speech, he argued metaphorically that the Comintern needed to translate “Bolshevism” into a language foreigners could understand and urged foreign communists to do just one thing: study, go back to the drawing board, and re-think everything:

“I think that after five years of the Russian revolution the most important thing for all of us, Russian and foreign comrades alike, is to sit down and study. We have only now obtained the opportunity to do so. I do not know how long this opportunity will last. I do not know for how long the capitalist powers will give us the opportunity to study in peace. But we must take advantage of every moment of respite from fighting, from war, to study, and to study from scratch.”

Studying the conditions we are operating in, the terrain we are fighting on, and the forms of power that dominate our lives is where we must begin. As we study, we must work like Chávez – or Malcolm, Martin, Mao, Hồ Chí Minh, Fidel, Che, Lenin – all of whom developed strategies for their times and contexts and accomplished great deeds as a result.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Julia Russ October 17, 2013 at 2:59 am

Good article comrade. We (the left) have a lot of academics,especially in the social sciences but don’t seem to ever use their skills in order to actually understand the situation of the people in the country. We need to look at what socialists now say about social interaction, poverty, the role of government, capitalism, etc, not just quote from Marx, then back it up with current findings (although, of course a lot of his ideas, and ideas of other socialists are still right.) We need to do this and present it in a way that looks modern and relevant.


William C Crain October 17, 2013 at 9:12 am

You are missed Mr. Binh, and you left the North Star in very good hands.
lots to chew on here… lots of links to peruse… and i do believe you’re correct: How will we bring this Revolution to fruition. We have not yet reached that ‘perfect storm’ of revolution YET!
And it’s getting more and more difficult to see our Socialist way clear ~ The deviation from protocols will get us arrested is a deterrent for a lot some if not a lot of folks are bizzy getting tattoos… now is the time for problem posing.


William C Crain October 19, 2013 at 6:56 am

#1 – 3 under the Revolution and Bourgeois ~ are right on target.
In order to create this tsunami of social desire to cast off Capitalism and embrace a Socialist economy will need to be big for sure and savvy. We’d like it to be decided at the ballot box but if not…


Nabil_Shaban October 19, 2013 at 6:59 pm

YES – International Socialist Revolution Now. Bring it on, Yank Comrades…Bring it on


Carl Davidson October 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm

There were actually two interesting books on ‘America’s Road to Socialism’ written in the 1930s, ‘Toward a Soviet America’ by William Z Foster and ‘The People’s Front’ by Earl Browder, reflecting the 6th and 7th Cominterns respectively. Both are worth reading, as are the works of Louis Fraina, aka Lewis Corey, an in-again, out-again CPer. His last major book in the 1940s, ‘The Unfinished Task,’ tries to present an anti-communist (largely anti-Stalinist) road to socialism via a democratic economic reconstruction that tries to push Keynesianism beyond its limits. All three tried to answer the proper questions, even if their answers, especially in hindsight, are found wanting. The 21st Century versions of some of these can be found in the two recent books by Gar Alperovitz, ‘America Beyond Capitalism’ and ‘Then What Must We Do.’ The best, in my opinion, is David Schweickart’s ‘After Capitalism.’ especially the new 2nd edition. I’ve created a chapter-by-chapter slide show for it in the Study Guides section of the Online University of the Left at


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