In this extract from The Leveller Revolution, John Rees describes one of the great popular mobilisation of the English Revolution over the Christmas of 1641. It was described by one eye-witness, Captain Robert Slyngsbie as ‘the maddest Christmas that ever I saw’
Bhaskar Sunkara’s interview with Robert Brenner
, on the forces that made and unmade the American welfare state, was first published in Jacobin
.(The Memorial Day Massacre: Chicago police attack Republic Steel strikers)
Bhaskar Sunkara: When people think about the New Deal, there are two main accounts. In one of them, Franklin Roosevelt is the hero, leading a band of workers against the big capitalists who had just driven us into an economic depression. On the other extreme, there are those who make it seem like Roosevelt was acting solely in the interest of elites smart enough to want to save capitalism from itself. Which is closer to the truth?
Robert Brenner: I would say that the key to the emergence of the New Deal reforms was the transformation in the level and character of working-class struggle. Within a year or two of Roosevelt’s election, we saw the sudden emergence of a mass militant working-class movement. This provided the material base, so to speak, for the transformation of working-class consciousness and politics that made Roosevelt’s reforms possible.
Following the labor upsurge and radicalization that came in the wake of World War I, workers’ militancy tailed off, and the 1920s saw the American capitalist class at the peak of its power, confidence, and productiveness, in total command of industry and politics. Manufacturing productivity rose more rapidly during this decade than ever before or since, the open shop (which banned union contracts) prevailed everywhere, the Republican Party of big business reigned supreme, and the stock market broke all records.