Both the reformist left and the reactionary right have promoted the idea that FDR was a socialist or fascist that was either the working class’ savior or a villain who undermined America’s free enterprise system. Neither of these narratives of true. FDR originated from a patrician family, and his objective was to save the “American system” from being overrun by the kind of extremism that characterized European politics during the Great Depression. He did so by successfully co-opting the “far-left” not by joining it.
With the coming of the Great Depression in the 1930s, a sharp increase in protest and anti-capitalist sentiment threatened to undermine the existing political system and create new political parties. The findings of diverse opinion polls, as well as the electoral support given to local radical, progressive, and pro-labor candidates, indicate that a large minority of Americans were ready to back social democratic proposals. It is significant, then, that even with the growth of class consciousness in America, no national third party was able to break the duopoly of the Democratic and Republican Parties. Radicals who operated within the two-party system were often able to achieve local victories, but these accomplishments never culminated in the creation of a sustainable third party or left-wing ideological movement. The thirties dramatically demonstrated not only the power of America’s coalitional two-party system to dissuade a national third party but also the deeply antistatist, individualistic character of its electorate.
Categories: Economics/Class Relations