In 1848, German philosopher Karl Marx delineated in his Communist Manifesto that society, at the time phasing through a period of industrialization and capitalism, would become continuously split into two distinct economic classes known as the bourgeoisie, or the holders of wealth, and the proletariat, or the working class. Although Marxist thought has European origins, no European nation has split into a two-party system that mirrors Marxist thought quite like the U.S.
The U.S. has always been a stout opponent of communism: the Cold War, the “Red Scare” and the Marshall Plan were all aimed at squashing sympathy to communist thought around the globe. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, America’s primary communist rival vanished, leaving the People’s Republic of China and a handful of others as the remnants of a bygone era.
Despite the fact that America is commonly thought of as having triumphed over communism, American democracy closely represents a Marxist dichotomy. The unique two-party system in the U.S. has persisted since its founding, where the debate between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists has, over the centuries, transformed into the modern partisanship of Republicans and Democrats.
This design has created a state marked by its majority versus minority dichotomy. Few countries in Europe are thus split, for their parliaments are divided amongst many leftist, centrist and rightist parties with coalition-building a common feature. Although Communist and socialist parties are represented in many of these nations’ governments, this multilateral political competition is not indicative of the future Marx envisioned.
Only in the U.S. has the citizenry so passionately split into two fundamental and exclusive camps. Although fringe groups like the Green Party have become minimally popular, most American third parties have failed to gain representation in government in any form. Many European parties that are represented in their parliaments are fringe groups in the U.S., and must eventually blend into one of the two dominant parties in order to gain legislative representation.
A closer look at the Republican and Democratic parties reveals how close to a Communist class struggle the U.S. really is, especially when considering Marx’s predicted division of society into two distinct classes. Predicted to sprout from this dichotomy is the Communist Revolution, or the creation of a classless society after a dictatorship by the proletariat. In Marx’s writings an initially economic division, it seems as if the proletariat and the bourgeoisie have become the implicit labels for, respectively, the Democratic and Republican parties, whose constituencies have transformed Marx’s predicted economic class solidarity into one overtly political in nature.
The Republican Party bears uncoincidental similarities to the bourgeoisie, or the economic class consisting of the owners of capital — in other words, the wealthy. The Democrats, by way of their platform, resemble the proletariat, or the party of the non-owners, specifically the wage workers who sell their labor on the free market to the bourgeoisie. This dichotomy is unmatched in Europe, where similar constituencies are represented by a vast number of political parties which survive in the U.S. as ideological factions within the two dominant parties.
Although the European Communist parties claim the legacy of Marx’s philosophy, no European state, even those labeled socialist, are as close as the U.S. to the pre-revolutionary conditions Marx predicted. The Democratic Party in the U.S. has been labeled socialist by its Republican adversaries, who are in turn called bourgeois reactionaries. Similar Republican insults intend to splinter the Democratic Party, one who for so long has supported the proletariat through measures like unionization and minimum wage hikes. Marx predicted that reactions to alienation amongst wage laborers would create a class solidarity strong enough to oppose the bourgeoisie.
Such reactions in the U.S. arise in response to perceptions of extreme economic inequality. For example, tax cuts for the rich (as espoused by Republicans) have been criticized for benefiting the wealthy at the expense of the poor. The resulting exponential growth of CEO income and bonuses, intended to stimulate economic growth for all by incentivizing the bourgeoisie’s investment, has been criticized as pseudo-economic, ignoring the status of the middle and lower classes. As the wealthy one-percent of Americans grew at the expense of the ninety-nine percent, Americans rallied with the Occupy Wall Street movement to show their commitment to fighting this moneyed class, creating solidarity amongst the proletariat exactly in the way Marx envisioned.
At all levels of politics, the U.S. is firmly entrenched in a two-party system. Republican benefactors have generally benefited the rich at the expense of the poor, whose interests are ideologically supported by the Democratic Party. Democratic leaders have and will continue to emerge to represent the voices ignored by bourgeois policy. Despite the historical U.S. opposition to communism, the country now mirrors Marx’s prediction of a divided society split along stark economic and political lines.