Finishing Reconstruction

Begin with what could be, ask what has been, and finish with what should be done now, to move forward.

What could be is relatively simple. The term “an American Left” should mean a convergence of movements and institutions capable of generating permanent change, rather than the current de facto Left, a hodge-podge of defensive, issue-focused groups, focused on immediate problems, with little unity.

What has been is evident. There is ample precedent for revolutionary change in this country. At decisive points, powerful movements generated the institutions that won a “transformative egalitarian order,” in the words of the political scientists Rogers Smith and Desmond King, describing the antislavery movement that birthed the Republican Party.

After decades of defeat, in the 1930s the radicalized labor movement took advantage of the New Deal to organize the industrial working classes, then at the center of our political economy, altering the balance of power in U.S. politics.

Most recently, between the 1930s and the 1970s, what the historian Jacqueline Dowd Hall calls “the long civil rights movement” broke up the South’s white supremacist oligarchy, and ushered in a new democratic order which has spread out to include every caste, ethnicity, sex, or gender formerly denied equal citizenship.

What is to be done? We are not finished with making this country a real democracy. We need to complete the process of Radical Reconstruction that began after the Civil War, and stalled until the Second Reconstruction of the mid-twentieth century. A Third Reconstruction is required to sweep away the power of deeply-entrenched racial and regional minorities, which sharply skews the U.S.’s political system in their favor.

Excerpt from Van Gosse writing at The Rag Blog where you can read the full essay dated July 7, 2013. Van Gosse teaches history at the Franklin & Marshall College and is the co-founder of The Post-Capitalist Project



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