The Times reported earlier this month that one-third of Americans can no longer afford to comply with their prescriptions. ... The current recession is knocking the working poor down another notch — from low-wage employment and inadequate housing toward erratic employment and no housing at all. Comfortable people have long imagined that American poverty is far more luxurious than the third world variety, but the difference is rapidly narrowing.Ehrenreich asserts, "There are no data yet on the effects of the recession on measures of inequality, but historically the effect of downturns is to increase, not decrease, class polarization."
This is precisely the sort of capitalist crisis that communism predicts (at least in general; the capitalists have definitely surprised us in the past) and, more importantly, the sort of crisis that communists must exploit to break the grip of the capitalist class on the social and political relations. This is not our crisis; the communists and socialists did not create nor must we exacerbate it: the capitalists themselves are digging the hole and they cannot help but deepen it.
But there will have to be some big changes in strategy to exploit this crisis.
I hold that contradictions between the means of production and the economic and political relations bring society to a tipping point, but which way we tip depends on the will and perspicacity of the factional leaders. And it is not just that there are "twists and turns" on the road to communism: communism must be intentionally brought about in opposition to and in conflict with the primary opposition, which is presently fascism, specifically in the United States Christian fundamentalist fascism.
The only thing that is not possible is preservation of "liberal" capitalist democracy. The liberal capitalists have proven entirely ineffective — quelle suprise — at acting against their own class interests for the benefit of the masses. No Roosevelt-like genius is arising — or can arise; the fascist capitalists have spent the last thirty years undermining and demonizing the liberal faction of the capitalist class, and the liberals have, because of their immediate class interests, actively cooperated in this assault.
Another strategic change has to move the focus from the industrial proletariat to the masses of unemployed and underemployed and the masses of service workers. In the mid 19th to early 20th century, the industrial proletariat was relatively large and horrifically exploited, fertile ground for communist recruitment because their own immediate interests were with communism. Today, however, the industrial workers are relatively small, especially in the United States, they are treated well relative to the unemployed and non-unionized service workers, and they are more fearful of unemployment than they are of mistreatment and exploitation. The industrial proletariat can no longer be considered the "natural" vanguard of the masses.
Another, more general failing in communism is the failure to recognize the power of nationalism. Nationalism caused the defeat of communism and the betrayal of the communist and socialist leadership in the First Global Imperialist War in the early 19th century, and nationalism led to the Second Global Imperialist War — co-opting even dedicated, thinking socialists such as George Orwell. The explicit anti-nationalism of the communists and socialists made it impossible to reach out to the industrial proletariat even when they were relatively strong in the 1970s, and has made it impossible to exploit the subsequent economic crises. (The intermittent economic "recoveries" in the 80s and 90s helped only the professional-managerial middle class.)
This is not to say that communists should embrace the sort of hyper-competitive militaristic nationalism of the fascists. Nationalism can be exploited by a slight shift in framing without at all compromising the truth: Instead of directing criticism to "America", direct it to the capitalist class as un-American. Tie communist ideals to liberal capitalist ideals, honored far more in the breach than the observance by the actual fascist and fascist-sympathetic capitalists. We want more freedom, more liberty, more democracy, not just the "freedom" for a tiny minority of the population to oppress and exploit the rest. We want to have real pride in our achievements as a nation, not just a unreasoning pride that cares only for a flag dripped in blood.