If Marxist Frederick Engels could succeed Alex Trebek as the host of one of America's favorite TV quiz shows, the final Jeopardy! clue in the category "Political Economy" could go like this: They "alternately take possession of the state power and exploit it by the most corrupt means and for the most corrupt ends." The correct answer would be: "What are the Democratic and Republican parties?"
Two years ago the Tea Party movement did not just begin a fight against the ruinous economic and social policies of President Obama's administration. Millions of people rallied across the country and cast their votes in an effort to end the tyranny of what Engels would call the "two great gangs of political speculators."
The grassroots movement is far from homogeneous. It includes very diverse groups-from social conservatives who place the preservation of life and traditional family values above material benefits to libertarians who want nothing more than to shrink the central government to a size where it can be drowned in the Potomac River should it dare to become tyrannical. What unites them is a common refusal to stay as a nation that is, in Engels' words, "powerless against these two great cartels of politicians, who are ostensibly its servants, but in reality exploit and plunder it."
The short-term goals of the Tea Party include the removal of as many tax-and-spend Democrats from the controls of the government as possible during the next few election cycles. More importantly, the majority in that movement desires to break apart the Republican establishment, ossified in its corrupt practices, and end what Engels called "this process of the state power making itself independent in relation to society, whose mere instrument it was originally intended to be."
Does that mean that the Tea Party is essentially Marxist in nature? Not at all. As Murray Rothbard points out, it was Engels himself who provided an un-Marxist analysis of the American political institutions. His introduction to The Civil War in France goes back to an earlier, classical liberal understanding of "class conflict" as one that arises when small homogeneous groups of citizens exploit the powers of government to achieve their special interest goals at the expense of large heterogeneous groups such as taxpayers and consumers. It is important that the Tea Party stays vigilant after its candidates take power. And I can only hope that a similar movement will rock the foundations of the Democratic Party when it goes into opposition.