The U.S. is a one-party state. There are two major parties, and both of them represent the capitalist class. They just have different views (except not that different) about how to manage the capitalist class (because government is the management department of an economy), and non-economic social issues.
Historically, political parties represented different things than they represent in the contemporary US. In England and early US, political parties were largely about what governing entity we should have: for example in England, the Whigs were Republicans, the Tories were Monarchists. In the US, the Federalists were urban, conservative, pro-British, pro-federal government, and the Democratic-Republicans were agrarian, liberal, and anti-federal government. We can even see how the U.S. could be a one-party state, due to the relative similarity in ideology between parties back then, compared to the Whigs and Tories supporting completely different government styles.
Political parties have developed differently depending on place, time, and context. In many parliamentary social democracies, political parties represent niche interests, with a focus on forming coalitions. In other places, political parties don’t have a mass movement, but represent regional political interests. For example, in Haiti they have members of fourteen different political parties in their Chamber of Deputies. Most political parties in Haiti lack the infrastructure to gain a national reach.
Another example of political party systems would be India’s, where they have seven nationally recognized political parties. Political parties are considered local until they gain control of more than four states, when they are then considered a national party.
And a final example would be a revolutionary political party, who wants to change the class character of the government. This would include the parties and pseudo-party factions of the French Revolution, that united in a coalition based on class character, to overthrow the aristocracy. In the Russian Revolution, there was more power consolidated in the Bolshevik Communist Party, but they were also in coalition with Mensheviks earlier, as well as the Ukrainian anarchist Black Army; the armed peasant groups called the Greens; and the Left SRs, who were the members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party of the February Revolution who then went on to support the Bolsheviks.
The point I’m getting at is that the class character of the government is more important than the number and variety of political parties. Political parties are a reflection of how society is organized. This is why the U.S. has a two-party system and Haiti has many regional political parties. These are different ways to organize politics, as a reflection of societal organization, but they’re both parts of capitalist systems.
This is why a strong third party system in the U.S. would be helpful, but it wouldn’t be revolutionary, and that system would only be implemented if the capitalist class believed that a robust third party system would still support capitalism. But, if Democrats and Republicans were more radically different, especially in terms of economic policy, it would be easier to imagine more major political parties, which gestures towards the idea that Democrats and Republicans are very similar.
All of this is better to understand the political organization around capitalist and communist economies. Political parties represent different political interests. Even if one or more of parties in a capitalist economy represent Marxist/revolutionary leftist ideologies, the country would still be considered capitalist by the nature of their economy.
This understanding of political parties and political economies shows how wrong it is when liberals make the “everything the government does is socialism” argument. Liberals will often argue that Northern European style, social democratic states, like the Nordic countries, are socialist countries.
Yes, in some sense, social democracies have elements of socialist economies. They tend to be more organized, which (effective) socialist economies would be too. But ultimately, you have to ask: does the economy involve private property, wage labor, and a commodity-based market system? If the answer’s yes, the state class character is capitalist, and only a revolutionary seizure could change this, just as the French Revolution couldn’t have been realized without dissolving the aristocracy through revolutionary means.
The point is, every government has a class character, and because of that, political parties can only ultimately advance one class’s interest. Therefore, if political parties aren’t advancing specific and pointed policy platform goals, then they will have overlapping positions. And when “Marxist” parties are allowed in parliamentary liberal systems, they are always reformist, and negligible enough that they’ll never get major power.
To sum this up in practical terms:
In 1921, the Soviet Union instituted the New Economic Policy. This policy made it so people could form small businesses that operated with elements of wage labor and market exchange, while the workers’ state continued to maintain industry, banks, finance, etc.
Now compare that to contemporary economy of Denmark. Denmark’s a market economy dependent on international trade. 80% of the workforce work in the service industry. There’s not a legally mandated minimum wage, but a high amount of union membership. There’s an obvious difference between these two economies, but American liberals often consider the Denmark example socialist.
Up until the post-Fordist era / the economic crisis of the late 70s and transition into the neoliberal Reagan model, the Democratic party represented the middle class and the Republic party represented the capitalist class. Even now, the Democratic party will sometimes evoke the middle class, but after Clinton, the party went full neoliberal, following Republican lead.
As the class gap in the U.S. grows, the Democratic party is left pandering to a declining class. They either need to pander up or pander down, and clearly they chose up. The increasing disillusion of the Democratic party amongst the working class is indicative of the Democrats pandering up. The wider the class divide grows, the less effective “middle class” rhetoric works, because less people are part of, or at least identify with, the middle class.
This shift in the Democratic Party is indicative of growing fascism in the US.
There are many leftist explanations the rise of fascism. A common explanation used by Benjamin and Zizek is that fascism arises when a revolution failed. There’s also Trotsky’s explanation of fascism, that it’s the radicalization of the petty-bourgeois. The petty-bourgeois as a class still exists as it did in Trotsky’s time, but it’s much smaller with much less influence, as big businesses have continually consumed smaller ones. Many of the people who used to be petty-bourgeois are now part of what we call the middle class.
Now, notice how Trotsky says fascism is the radicalization of the equivalent of the middle class, and the middle class is the base of the Democratic Party. If we take both of these to be true (at least one some level), then it becomes apparent why the Democrats are struggling both to have an identity, and have a cohesive party platform.
The Democratic party’s base is the target demographic for processes of right-wing radicalization. The upper class people are already “radicalized”, because they’re part of the capitalist class, who already seized power. The radicalization of the middle class involves the middle class feeling more united with the capitalist class, and turning themselves into the defender of the capitalist state, on ethnic grounds, against oppressed groups.
Of course, there’s a difference between a middle class person who went to Oberlin or Sarah Lawrence, and lives in New York and works in media; and a middle class person who lives in a middle America exurb, and owns a used car dealership. Although class can be reduced to several large groups of people, there are plenty of textures and subclasses that inform the wide array of potential class differences [I wrote about classes in this way last month, here, if you want to read more].
But because the middle class is radicalizing, we can see how it fits into the current historical movements happening in the U.S. and abroad. The Democratic Party, with the shrinking middle class and right-wing regression in public discourse, has basically become the Republicans of the 90s and early 2000s. The Democrats now feel that, as the Republicans inch closer and closer to explicit racism and oppression, and are still getting votes, then the Democrats must court the “non-racist” Republicans.
So before, the Democrats and Republicans were the progressive and regressive side of the same party. They both had the same values and represented the same class. Where they differed however, was how to best manage that class, and which social rights were most important to give the masses to appease them.
Now, the two American parties represent even closer interests. The difference between the most left and right American politicians are becoming more of a spectrum, with more people who would once be republicans, seeping into the conservative wing of the democrats. In fact, the only way in which they’re getting different is the Republicans becoming more explicitly reactionary.