Just as there has always been an ideological barrier to the acceptance of racial separatism, so has there been a barrier to class separatism. The agitation of class issues in the press and the establishment of class-based newspapers has often provoked violence. This class violence has, moreover, been colored by some unique features of U.S. labor history.
The United States has had an exceptionally violent labor history. 1 Labor violence has often been obscured in public memory by overriding beliefs in social mobility and ideological consensus, which produce an impression of unbroken class harmony and industrial stability. This impression is simply wrong. Compared with other Western industrial nations, the United States has experienced longer, more frequent, and more violent strikes and industrial disputes; the United States also boasts an exceptionally violent history of suppressing left-wing movements. All of this discord seems evanescent, though, absent class-based politics and the threat of a "workers' revolution."
The United States has never developed a national labor party, unlike other Western nations. Partly this was a result of political contingencies. Systems of parliamentary government, with their natural openness to a multiplicity of parties, are more conducive to class-based political movements than U.S.-style majoritarian democracy. Similarly, unlike in England, where the drive to win the right to vote provided a unifying goal for working-class politics, in the United States universal male suffrage was achieved without a class struggle, simply because it was always in the interest of the party in power to extend the franchise to win the support of new voters. In addition, the peculiar social history of U.S. labor limited the opportunities for working-class politics. Workers were always divided along lines of race and ethnicity. Also, ironically, labor was usually cut off from a natural base of support among farmers, who one might argue produced the most effective third-