AMERICA NEEDS A MULTI-PARTY DEMOCRACY

Occupy Deathstar

TO ANYONE WITH EARS TO HEAR AND EYES TO SEE, THE 2016 PSEUDO-ELECTION DEMONSTRATED THAT FOR OUR REPUBLIC TO REMAIN FREE AND A DEMOCRACY, WE NEED MORE THAN TWO PARTIES TO CHOOSE FROM IN ELECTIONS.

 

In the 2016 Democratic Party primaries, the level of vote-rigging, voter fraud and general hacking of machines and votes reached an unprecedented level that would have put even Boss Tweed to shame. It was not the Russians, as the CIA and the Corporate Media would have you believe who did it–it was the corrupt Neo-Liberals of the DNC who were guilty.

There were numerous online bloggers and a few remaining honest journalists present to document that fact, if one were willing to hunt these sources down online. Of course, if your source of news is the Corporate Media–the so-called Mainstream Media–you would have heard or seen none of this primary fraud. Thanks to Bill Clinton’s “reform” of the laws governing media ownership in the ’90’s, the United States went from about fifty different news and media sources down to five. The information highway, so-called, is controlled by a handful of Corporate conglomerates, who in turn have the fingers in the military-industrial government pie.

Stuffing-The-Ballot-Box

Case in point: the Washington Post, currently being lionized in the movies for releasing the Pentagon Papers in the 70’s, (which exposed the lies, collusion and fraud which the Pentagon and CIA engaged in to gin up the Vietnam War), was bought by Jeff Bezos with money obtained from a lucrative contract with the CIA. The WaPo then proceeded to shill for Hill and when Bernie Sanders became a serious threat to her coronation, began churning out attack pieces on Sanders, propaganda disguised as news, at a furious pace. In one day alone they vomited 18 attacks. Hillary, Wall Street’s choice for Democratic Party candidate, had the money, the power and the media behind her, as well as the CIA pulling propaganda strings behind the scenes. Yet still she lost to what is generally agreed as the worst POTUS in US history (sorry Millard Fillmore & James Buchanan you were bad, just not this awful). With the WaPo in the back pocket of the CIA, don’t look for it to ever do an expose such as they did with Watergate and the Pentagon Papers in the ’70’s.

trump_wedding_clintons 2006

As the DNC and Podesta emails proved beyond a reasonable doubt, not only was the Democratic primary rigged in advance, the Clinton machine–with Mainstream Media collusion–actually promoted the Trump candidacy in the GOP primaries. They called it “the Pied Piper” strategy: engineer the worst possible candidate into the role of GOP presidential candidate and the voters of the United States will be forced to vote for the “lesser of two evils.”

Kevin & Bill sexperts in league together
Pervs of a feather fly the Lolita Express together to Jeff Epstein’s Under-Age Fantasy Island. The one with the hidden video cameras to use to blackmail the rich and famous later.

Despite many non Clinton dems urging for HER to go out and campaign in the contested states, Hillary and her acolytes were so sure she would win by a landslide they not only did not actively campaign in the field where it was most needed, they went out of their way to insult and degrade the Sanders wing of the party, which arguably was more than 50% of Democratic Party stalwarts. Well, as we know too well, the American electorate, given the choice of two evils, chose what they perceived was the lesser evil–Trump!

 

Bill Clinton & Harvey Weinstein
Two sexual predators compare notes and gloats.

I would like to gloat over the monstrous hubris of the Clintonites, but unfortunately the entire country–the entire world–is having to suffer the consequences. The Clintons, with their billions of graft and “donations” extorted from third world strongmen and dictators (including Vladimir Putin), can sit back and roll in their ill gotten money; most Americans however will suffer from the dangerous incompetency, the meanness and arrogance of Bill Clinton’s golfing buddy and fellow sex perv, Donald, “grab pussy” Trump.

Thomas Nast dead elephant and Donkey over cliff

There are many causes of how the American political system became so dysfunctional and in future articles I will delve into some aspects of the decline of Democracy and death spiral our Republic seems to be in. But for the present, let me just state the obvious: had the American public been presented with viable alternatives to the Hillary-Trump axis–or Wall Street Blue vs Wall Street Red as one pundit framed it–we would certainly be far better off for the next four to eight years.

Clowns to the left Jokers to the right

Third parties have arisen, but generally they have never attempted to build a party infrastructure county by county that can deliver votes in congressional elections. Once every four years for a charismatic candidate is not enough to turn the Republic’s death spiral around.

What America needs to restore democracy is not three, but at least four and perhaps even six legitimate parties, each of which would appeal to a broad swath of the American electorate. Most issues today are framed in a left vs right duopoly, as if there were no middle ground between either camp.

How many right to life advocates would argue that, if a woman’s life were in immanent danger due to a pregnancy, that she should be made to die rather than to save her life? Conversely, it is estimated that as many as 80% of all gun owners are for reasonable restrictions to keep guns out of the mentally ill, career criminals and terrorists. What they are not for is to have their constitutional rights taken away.

Most Americans, no matter what their declared party affiliation is, often take a variety of stands on a variety of issues: yet the two oligarchic parties restrict our choice to Column A and Column B. Bernie Sanders, a self avowed Socialist, was able to work with Ron Paul, a Libertarian, to force the Federal Reserve to do an audit of its holdings, revealing millions of dollars unaccounted for. That is an example of how independent politicians with different political philosophies can work together for the common good.

Ron & Bernie the political Odd Couple
politics makes for strange bedfellow, but at least they’re not underage.

It may be hard to fathom today, but the Republican Party started as a party whose rank and file were composed of Socialists of one ilk or another. Karl & Abe Book

The Republicans of the 1850’s and 1860’s not only abolished slavery, but redistributed millions of acres of land to the landless, set up a system of FREE higher education, had government intervene in building a transcontinental transportation system (a socialistic program if ever there was one) and many other reforms we now take for granted and don’t even recognize their socialistic origins.

 

 

The Democratic Party used to be the party of the working man and woman and under FDR and the New Deal, farmers, laborers and common folk in all parts of the country looked to the party of Jefferson and Jackson to defend their rights and expand democracy.

Since the mid-eighties, however, that party has been taken over by plutocrats disguised as liberals–the so-called Neo-Liberals–who are definitely NOT Liberals but who are basically Wall Street operatives in sheep’s clothing. More and more, Neo-Liberals’ main goal is to maintain control of the party–and the flood of money coming in from lobbyists and special interests–and less and less with actually winning elections. After all, their logic goes, who are union workers and minorities going to vote for–the Republicans?  With at least 40% of the electorate now identifying themselves as independent, clearly the answer is: NONE OF THE ABOVE

Bernie resistance.

We desperately need more than these two old and corrupt parties to choose from.  If comic book heroes can dwell in a multiverse, so too can the American voter. The electorate can handle more than two choices for not just the Presidency, but the House and Senate and, especially, for state and local offices. The Duopoly–that cabal of rich plutocrats who pretend to be for democracy but who really wish to keep American voters in the thrall of Wall Street–don’t want to give the voters a real choice at the polls. To be sure, those Americans who remain brainwashed by the Left-Right delusion, may think they are voting “Conservative” or “Liberal” when they go to the polls, but how often do they find that what they thought they were voting for never comes to pass?

Reality Pill
THE WORLD THAT HAS BEEN PULLED OVER YOUR EYES TO BLIND YOU FROM THE TRUTH

Wall Street Red and Wall Street Blue will continue to function for a long time to come, but many of the people now part of either party are not happy with their masters and if they were presented with viable alternatives, gladly bolt the failed duopoly that serves neither their needs nor their values.

In future articles I will go into detail as to what these parties should look like. Bear in mind, I do not necessarily subscribe to the values of such parties; but there are large numbers of Americans who would and whose voices would be best heard outside of the stifling political strait-jacket that now exists of Democratic v. Republican tickets. In a true democracy we do not always get what we want; but we are given clear and honest alternatives to choose from.

Delacroix Liberty at the Barricades
DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING?

In the past, America has had other parties than the Democrats and the Republicans and in some cases we had a genuine multi-party Presidential election. The one time we had a four-way Presidential election, the choice of the voting was arguably one of the country’s greatest Presidents: Abraham Lincoln.  We need more politicians like him today–and a multi-party system is the way to do it.

 

Theodore-Roosevelt

 

 In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt left the corruption of the Republican Party to form the Progressive or “Bull Moose” Party, the best expressions of the Progressive political movement in the 20th century. He beat the GOP candidate in the popular vote, but lost to Woodrow Wilson, a virulently racist Democrat, who pretended to be Progressive but was anything but, and who later dragged America into a war to defend Wall Street & London Bankers’ financial investments.

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Ambrose Bierce on Immigration

Ambrose-Bierce
Ambrose Bierce.  Cynic, observer of the human condition, disappointed idealist.

 

“Think what a better world it would be if we all-the whole world-had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.  And it is still true, no matter how old you are-when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.” Robert Fulghum

It seems like some issues in American politics never go away, they just change their context.  One such issue is the question of Immigration Policy.

This election year we hear the Republican candidate spewing racial stereotypes and absurd solutions to the problem of illegal immigration.  While members of his own party have condemned his statements, the truth is that for the last eight years their own stand on illegal immigrants has not been that much different than his.  Before the Great Recession of 2008, moreover, they positively welcomed “undocumented” immigrants because, they said, “we can’t get Americans to do hard work” and similar excuses for allowing cheap unskilled labor to undercut the American worker.

Conversely, the Democratic Party has embraced illegal immigrants–supposedly–even as President Obama has deported more illegal immigrants than his predecessors combined.  To be sure, some humane immigration policies have been temporarily put in place by the present POTUS, but this is like putting a topical anesthetic on the skin to cure an internal tumor.

The truth is, many American blue collar workers have seen their good paying jobs disappear over the years, only to be replaced by low wage, no benefit jobs.  Americans are not lazy, nor they unwilling to do hard work; they simply want to be paid a decent wage, something the multinational corporations who run our government and who are writing the international “Free” Trade deals that continue to ship whole factories overseas don’t want.  What most working class Americans don’t understand is that each wave of illegal immigrants flooding into our country are the byproducts of these phony trade deals, which are neither free, nor even much about trade.  NAFTA spurred a flood of illegal Mexican workers, displaced by the deal, who came north seeking work; CAFTA did the same thing to Central Americans, also desperate for work at any price.  Nothing spurs ethnic animosity like the perception that these new arrivals are here to take your already substandard paying job.

The moral philosopher and humorist, Robert Fulghum, once observed that “All I Really Need to Know, I learned in Kindergarten.”  Consider, if you will, the game of Musical Chairs; every time the music stops, everyone scrambles for a chair and someone ALWAYS LOSES. Then another chair is taken away and the music starts again;  again and again, the music stops and another chair is taken away, until only one person wins.  Do you all remember how many fights and arguments broke out over that game?  I do.  Our “rigged” economy is very much like that game of Musical Chairs.  So, yes, a lot of working class Americans are bigoted against immigrants, legal or illegal, because they blame them for the loss of their once prosperous and affluent lifestyle, without ever stopping to think who it is that is really manipulating the music and the chairs.

What has all this got to do with Ambrose Bierce?  Actually, precious little; but in the late nineteenth century many “real Americans” were also concerned about immigration and worried that the furriners were going to ruin our country. Having delved into Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce’s life and works for over six years as I worked on my current book, whenever I see a current political issue heatedly debated, it naturally reminds me of something Bierce said or did.  For you edification, therefore, I present Bierce’s take on immigration:

“America has issued a general invitation. Whether that may have been judicious or not is not for them to say who have accepted it. If we keep open house, we do not need, neither will we tolerate, an intimation from a guest that the company is not sufficiently select.” In other words, only Native Americans have a right to complain about more recent immigrants.”  AGB

Things have changed greatly from the day Bierce uttered his observation, but I would aver that his words still contain much wisdom.

 

Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife cover
Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, due out in 2016 and available at all the better bookstores.

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT IS A POLITICAL CONVENTION FOR IF NOT TO CHOOSE A CANDIDATE?

Hillary Dumpty

The question of what is the purpose of a political convention may seem a trifle simplistic to modern media pundits, but as three generations of teachers—and Democrats—in my family were want to say, there are no stupid questions; just stupid answers.  So to all the politically savvy “experts” in the media and the Democratic political establishment nationwide, I recommend that you seriously consider—or reconsider—your own answer to this question, as well as my own answer below.

Thomas Nast dead elephant and Donkey over cliff
The GOP is a dying beast but can still do great harm; meanwhile, the Democratic Party establishment seems bound and determined to follow Hillary Clinton over the precipice.  Their convention in July is the place to correct their mistake.

For a number of years, the presidential convention has simply been one giant publicity event, a raucous but essentially meaningless cheerleading rally for the pre-anointed candidate of the respective political party.  We now have a prolonged and incredibly expensive process for selecting a presidential candidate, a process which is neither designed to choose the best possible person for the job, nor even the most electable candidate; and if the current Democratic Presidential nominating process is any guide, it is also not reflective of the wishes of the rank and file members of that political party, but the cynical will of a small circle of political bosses and their financial handlers.  

Traditionally, the purpose of a presidential political convention has been to select a candidate; how the candidate was chosen has varied over the years, but in essence the convention was the medium through which this was done.  Caucus, primary or smoke filled room have all been methods for selecting a suitable candidate; but the purpose has always been to choose the best person for the job, not to acquiesce to the political operative most acceptable to the billionaire class.

 

Hurricane image royalty free
The Democratic Party is traveling straight into the Perfect Storm with #CrookedHillary and can’t see it.  Only the nomination of Bernie Sanders can save the day.

Since the late 1970’s, the leadership of the Democratic Party—the party of Jefferson and Jackson, the party of the common man, the working man—has transformed it into a “me too” party, mimicking the Republican Party, perhaps a little less austere and still giving lip service to American workers but in fact undermining them at every turn, but has been gradually abandoning the values of FDR and the New Deal, the very programs and values that had made the Democratic Party the dominant political party for half a century; the programs and policies that had not only reformed a broken economic system, but ushered in an era of unprecedented prosperity for most Americans. 

Mind you, the wealthy also benefited from the economic programs of the New Deal, since we are a consumer economy and the more money American workers have, the more they spend. 

The reverse, however, is not true: giving the wealthy undeserved tax breaks and various “corporate welfare” schemes to not result in wealth trickling down to the American worker.  They never have and never will: Trickle Down economics, or whatever label you rebrand it with, is a proven failure and just a con to rob the middle class of their wealth and transfer it to the top 1%.  What is a billion dollars in political contributions when it will return you in 100 billion in tax breaks, government subsidies and assorted outsourcing and off-shoring schemes?

 

Stuffing-The-Ballot-Box
The only way Hillary has gotten the primary wins she has was by out and out cheating.

 

Bernie Sanders portrays himself as a “Democratic Socialist” and that is fine if he wishes to characterize his solid New Deal derived programs and policies in those terms.  Perhaps all these years the Democratic Party should have been more forthright to the American people about all those “socialistic” programs which created wealth and prosperity in this country.  Those programs, and a strong Union movement, created the record postwar prosperity we enjoyed between 1945 and into the 1970’s.  Perhaps then the Repugnican NeoCons would never have gotten to first base with their vile economic voodoo even in the Republican Party. 

 

Now both the GOP NeoCons and the DINO Democrat NeoLibs are attacking Social Security and Medicare as “entitlement programs” that need to be cut to balance the budget.  Even Ronald Reagan laid it out in simple terms that, while Social Security is technically in the Federal Budget, it DOES NOT contribute to the deficit; it is fully funded by the American people and their employers. YES IT IS AN ENTITLEMENT: YOU ARE ENTITLED TO THAT MONEY BECAUSE YOU PAID INTO IT YOUR ENTIRE WORKING LIFE, NOT THE BILLIONAIRES!  However, every American should be aware that over the years Social Security has been raided by the Republicans and some Dems as a giant slush fund to finance Billionaire tax cuts and otherwise unfunded wars (like Hillary’s Iraq War).  So, no Social Security is not “going broke” but the Billionaires and their Congressional toadies have been stealing from the till and need to put the money back,

Reagan Defending Social Security: reagan

Bernie Sanders Defends Social Security

bernie-sanderssmiling
Why is this man smiling? Guess.

However, to learn what the Repugnicans and the NeoLib Democrats have been doing with your Social Security money, listen to this radio show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqxMCjZxXYM

 

Hillary Clinton is a DINO—a Democrat In Name Only—and she and her fillandering husband have worked very hard to transform the Democratic Party in the Republican Light Party.  Even many progressives in the party—and they are fewer every year—are largely afraid to cross the Clinton Crime Family or run too strongly against the NeoLiberal lies that the Clinton organization has made the new party dogma.

 

Delacroix Liberty at the Barricades
aux la barricades in July and take the Democratic Party back from the Oligarchs, America.

 

The Democratic Party needs to get back to its roots; nominate Bernie Sanders, move heaven and earth to get money out of politics and push through financial reforms and all the regulations that were put in place after the “free market” bankrupted America.  The only reason these safeguards were removed was because of sheer greed.  During World War II, FDR proposed a Second Bill of Rights, also known as the Economic Bill of Rights.  Call it Socialism if you wish—but bear in mind the Pilgrims and the Puritans were socialists too and they never heard of Karl Marx.  Karl & Abe Book

 

Needless to say, all the phony trade treaties like NAFTA, the TPP and the upcoming TTIP and some 45 or so other scams to benefit multi-national corporations all need to be repealed and renegotiated into FAIR TRADE plans, where corporations are excluded and American workers benefited.  Then, and only then, can this nation come back from the precipice and begin to return to a prosperous and just society.

 

Unless the Democratic Natonal Convention in July does its true duty and nominate Bernie Sanders as their standard bearer, our nation is headed for an even bigger financial collapse than we experienced in 2008.  Hillary Clinton is a large part of the problem—her and the Republican NeoCons—and it is hard to say which would be worse, her or Trunp.  If Hillary is nominated, there is a strong chance the Democratic Party will go down to defeat; if she wins, it is almost certain she will be impeached.  Whatever vestige of Democracy we have is on the verge of disappearance.  The Democratic Convention can reverse this dangerous situation, but not if it nominates the worst candidate they have had since the era of Boss Tweed.

Hillary vs Bernie on Panama Trade Agreement

 

THOMAS PAINE: PATRIOT & SOCIALIST

590px-Thomas_Paine
Thomas Paine called “The Firebrand of the Revolution,” had strong opinions about Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

The notion that Socialism is a foreign innovation imported into the United States in the twentieth century is a falsehood which is deeply implanted in the modern American consciousness.  We have seen how the Pilgrims and Puritans organized their first colonies on a socialistic basis and that that socialistic structure proved key to their survival in the dangerous early years the two colonies existence.

Let us now finally lay to rest the false narrative of socialism as being  un-American by examining the case of American Patriot and revolutionary, Thomas Paine.

Having grown up in New Rochelle, New York–Paine’s home town during the American Revolution–I was exposed to Paine’s writings at an early age and visited Paine’s cottage to see where he penned many of his most famous phrases.  I even wrote an early essay on the “Firebrand of the Revolution.”

So I have long been familiar with his life and works.  However, until recently I had not grasped the economic aspects of his political ideology. In short, Thomas Paine was not only a Patriot and key figure in the American Revolution, but a Socialist as well.

Thomas Paine was about the closest the Thirteen Colonies had to a professional revolutionary. His pamphlets stirred the American rebels to action and motivated them to stay the course in achieving independence.  His stirring calls to action and evocative phrases still resonate today: “These are the times that try men’s souls,” “The Summer Soldier and Sunshine Patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country,” “The harder the conflict, the more glorious t he triumph.”

But in amongst his calls to action in defense of liberty and independence, he also declaimed against organized religion (especially Christianity) and he also had quite a bit to say about equality—social as well as political.  Of course, at the time of the Revolution, the Church of England was very much a political creature of both the Crown and the upper classes who ruled both England and America.  We forget that it was the dissident Protestant sects in America who were most in favor of separation of Church and State which is enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

The economic aspects of his political philosophy are rarely mentioned in discussions of Thomas Paine today, but they were part of his political philosophy of equality and his ideas about promoting equality are perhaps more relevant today than they were in his day.  If all wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few, you inevitably end up with an Oligarchy.  Economic inequality is the enemy of Democracy.  There is no way around that fact.

After the end of the American Revolution Thomas Paine traveled to France to join in the French Revolution  The French call for not just Liberty, but Equality and Fraternity had a strong appeal to Paine—and inherent in Equality and Fraternity is the notion of economic democracy.

french-revolution-kings-execution
An enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution, he nearly lost his head when he began criticizing the revolution’s excesses.

 

To be fair and balanced (as it were) we should note the Mr. Paine was well surnamed, for at various times he made himself a royal pain to his fellow revolutionaries, both in the America and France.  He criticized George Washington at one point and when he saw the French Revolution start to devolve into the Terror, he began criticizing some of the French revolutionaries and he came close to getting his neck shaved by Madame Guillotine.  Not surprisingly Paine once quipped that, “he who dares not offend cannot be honest.”

Paine concentrated much of his social democratic ideas in a pamphlet called “Agrarian Justice.”  It was written in the winter of 1795-96, but he held off publication for a time, due in part to the war between France and England.  What apparently motivated him to go ahead and issue his essay was the verbal diarrhea of an Anglican Bishop who thought to answer his work The Age of Reason; the smug cleric entitled it “The Wisdom and Goodness of God in having made both Rich and Poor.”  The title of the pamphlet outraged Paine, who pointed out that God “made only male and female, and he gave them the earth for their inheritance.”

I think we still have far too many people today who still believe that their wealth is somehow due to God rewarding them for their virtue and that, conversely, poverty is God’s punishment for the unworthy.  As Paine pointedly note, economic inequality is mainly a condition mainly due to man’s injustice towards their fellow humans.  As Paine put it, “instead of preaching to encourage one part of mankind in insolence . . . it would be better that priests employed their time to render the general condition of man less miserable than it is. Practical religion consists in doing good: and the only way of serving God is that of endeavoring to make His creation happy. All preaching that has not this, for its object is nonsense and hypocrisy.”

But I digress.  In his pamphlet, Paine pointed out that poverty and want are not the natural state of man.  Paine illustrates this by giving the example of Native Americans of his day, whose tribes held all their land in common and enjoyed an egalitarian lifestyle: “The life of an Indian is a continual holiday, compared with the poor of Europe; and, on the other hand it appears to be abject when compared to the rich.”

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It was Paine’s premise that “the earth, in its natural, cultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race. In that state every man would have been born to property. He would have been a joint life proprietor with rest in the property of the soil, and in all its natural productions, vegetable and animal.”  However, because of the rise of civilization, which he noted was usually a product of the sword, the land was divided and subdivided so that now a handful of producers have possession the soil and its bounty.

Paine argues that the air, earth water and land are a common patrimony of all humanity and that only the improvements to the land as a result of civilization are actually private property.  Beginning with the invention of agriculture, “the common right of all became confounded into the cultivated right of the individual,” Since it is impossible to separate the improvements from land itself, he proposed instituting what he called a ground rent on the propertied class.

From this single tax on land he proposed to funding payments to the landless to help equalize the disproportion between rich and poor.  Beginning at the age of fifty and over, an annual stipend of £10 per annum was to given to everyone, regardless of economic status.  Fifty is what at that time he considered the average life expectancy.  Also, when anyone reached the age of twenty-one they would automatically be given a lump sum of £15 Sterling, “as a compensation, in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance.” This would, he hoped, help give them their start in life.  A payment would also be made to those who became disabled or were infirmed and unable to support themselves sufficiently to make a living.  These payments, he emphasized, were not charity but a right—a universal right—and would be paid out regardless of whether the individuals were rich or poor.

To modern ears, Thomas Paine’s proposal for “Agrarian Justice” may not seem so radical, but in its day it most certainly was—which is why it was never instituted, either in Europe or America.  Bear in mind, in Paine’s day the Industrial Revolution had only just begun and land was still the primary measure of wealth and power.  In fact, not just wealth and social status, but voting rights and office holding were also dependent on the possession of land, even in the United States.

The other side of the equation in Paine’s plan was the taxation.  The improvements to the land would not be taxed, just the value of the land itself.  The “land rent” of 10% was a once time assessment for a direct descendant inheriting property, although higher for “indirect” descendants.  When that owner died in turn, an additional assessment was made.  Paine estimated that the effective turnover in property would be about every thirty years, so that over time any concentrations of property and wealth would gradually be equalized, or at the least the extremes of wealth and poverty minimized.  People would work still for their daily bread, but the extreme want and misery that existed would be eliminated.

Many aspects of Paine’s Agrarian Justice sound similar to our Social Security Insurance program begun by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930’s, although Social Security consists of an equal contribution between employee and employer and does nothing to fight inequality and the creeping Oligarchism of modern American politics.  In recent years even Social Security has come under incessant attack by reactionary politicians and the billionaires who bankroll them.

Paine’s Agrarian Justice resembles another American Socialist’s ideas.  Henry George, writing during the period when big business and monopolies were taking over the economy and the political establishment, penned Progress and Poverty in 1879.  He advocated a Single Tax on land as a cure for the growing disparity between rich and poor similar to Paine’s tax.  George, however, wrote in an industrial age and had a more elaborate political and economic program than Paine’s, and which also included proposals such as having all utilities being publicly owned and a secret ballot for elections.  Many of George’s criticisms of industrial society remain relevent, although his Single Tax solution found less favor among both socialists and economists.

Whether or not one believes Thomas Paine’s Agragrian Justice would have been a practical means of achieving social and economic justice, he remains a notable early American Socialist and Patriot, whose ideas remain a cornerstone of American political philosophy.

Hero Patriot and Paine in the Butt

Pilgrim Communism, Part II

Plymouth Bay Colony Seal
Seal of the Plymouth Bay Colony, showing a colonist planting crops

In our discussion of Pilgrim and Puritan Socialism in our previous essay, we of course simplified what are sometimes nuanced issues, and in this medium we rarely footnote all the sources which relate to a subject.  However, if one looks at various pop articles and secondary sources relating to the subject of early New England socialism, you will find a distinct bias to those articles.  Largely penned by Conservative Christian apologists, they strain to emphasize what a failure these early efforts at communal economic organization were and interpret it as the triumph of Capitalism over Socialism.

 

The_Mayflower_Compact_1620_cph.3g07155
Signing the Mayflower Compact, establishing the organization and rules for the Plymouth Bay Colony, (via Library of Congress)

First off, modern Conservative Christians stand in relation to Christianity in the way National Socialists stand in relation to Socialism—while they may sound the same, in the main it’s in name only.

Another thing to consider is that Capitalism did not exist in the seventeenth century; Capitalism was a by-product of the growth of industrialization, which did not really begin until the late eighteenth century and came to the fore in the nineteenth.  Mercantilism was the dominant economic system of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and even at the beginning seventeenth century England still retained many vestiges of Medieval Manorial economics, such as the open field system.  So, to a certain degree, discussing “Capitalism” versus Puritan socialism is irrelevant and anachronous.  Apparently, some modern Conservative dogmatists feel threatened by the fact that their forefathers were not as ideologically pure as they.

That being said, there were other factors at work, especially in the Plymouth Bay Colony, that I did not go into in part 1.  Not all the colonists on the Mayflower were coming to the New World for religious liberty or enamored of Biblical economic justice; seventeenth century sources refer to “adventurers and planters” and clearly the Congregationalists were not among the “adventurers” in the group.

 

Samoset
The hard times of the early Plymouth settlers were not due to their socialistic economy so much as trying to plant European crops in a climate unsuited to them. Samoset and his tribesmen befriended the settlers and taught them to plant crops better suited to New World conditions.

So, the more secular settlers were of course unhappy about the austere communal (or “communistic”) system initially set up, where all their resources (mostly food) were stored in one communal warehouse and everybody shared work duties according to their ability and resources were shared equally.  To a large extent this austere form of socialistic practice was out of necessity.  The colonists did not land until November of 1620, far too late to plant any crops; many were already suffering from diseases such as scurvy due to the long sea journey and were too sick to pull their own weight as far as work was concerned.  As it was, the settlers had to steal parched corn from the nearby Indians due to lack of food.  Half of the colonists died that first winter; more, maybe all, would have died had they not pooled their resources and instead practiced “rugged individualism.”

Even after the first winter, the colonists tried to plant crops unsuited to the harsh New England climate and it wasn’t until the Native Americans (who most definitely were practicing a form of tribal communism) taught the immigrants how to plant native crops and cultivate them, that the food shortages truly disappeared.

 

It should be noted that Jamestown, which did not practice communism or socialistic economics at all, had an even worse time of it at the start because everybody did try to do their own thing (mainly looking for gold and trying to enslave the local tribesmen) and they were so short of food at one point that they started digging up corpses from the ground and engaged in cannibalism.  That is what “Capitalism” (sic) resulted in.  So, from a comparative viewpoint, the Pilgrims early form of communistic austerity was relatively successful.  However, as their governor, William Bradford, noted, many were far from happy with such a strict economic regimen and after the initial hard times, in 1623 loosened discipline to where land was parceled out to individual families, although ownership was still held in common by the colony as a whole.

 

So, was Pilgrim socialism successful?  The modern ideologues would have you believe it was a failure; but bear in mind the colony had been set up as a proprietary charter from the start and owed money to the financial backers of the colony in England, who expected their investment back within a certain time.  The colony was set up as a communal endeavor from the beginning, with the profits from the colony earmarked to pay back the investors, after which there would be a division of the assets among the colonists.  In fact, despite all the hardships and delays, the Plymouth colonists did pay back the investors, after which there was an equitable division of the assets of the colony among the surviving colonists.  So, while the “socialist experiment” did not continue on, neither was it a failure.

Plymouth storehouse and homes
Replica of early Plymouth storehouse and homes.

 

 

The situation could best be likened to the Lutherans of the Amana Colony of Iowa; they too set up a religious commune, which included both agriculture and manufacturing; eventually they sold the manufacturing rights to a corporation—which is why you can still buy Amana refrigerators to this day.  The Amana commune did not continue, true; but I would hardly call it a failure.  Much the same could be said of the Plymouth Colony and, with somewhat different circumstances, the Puritan’s economic experiment.  Today, about 35 million Americans claim ancestry from the Pilgrims; despite the challenges and hardships, I would say that is something of a success story.

AMERICA’S FIRST SOCIALISTS

Image00066_482
A communal feast where everyone shares equally in the fruits of their common labor–sometimes known as “The First Thanksgiving.” No tipping was allowed.

It remains to be seen whether the presidential candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders is just an outlier or the beginning of a major sea-change in American politics.  In either case, it would be good at this juncture for us all to reflect on Socialism and its history in American politics and society.  The history of American Socialism is not exactly a secret, but on the other hand most Americans have a very poor understanding of what it is and was.  Whatever one may think of it as a political and economic movement, the chances are you are wrong in your assumptions, good or bad.  At best, I think most folks know that Bernie Sanders is far from being the first socialist to appear on the scene, but how far back this movement goes is very poorly understood.

Do you know–or think you know–who were the very first Americans to practice Socialism?

—–Think it was members of the American Communist Party in the 1930’s?  Nope: they were outspoken, militant and slavishly devoted to Joe Stalin, and most people during the Cold War associated them with disloyalty and treason; but no, they were hardly the first or only ones to advocate some kind of socialist solution.

—–How About the Socialists active during Gilded Age and the early 1900’s?  Well, there were a bunch of folks active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and as mayors of cities and congressmen they generally had a good reputation for honesty and good government; but no they were not the first.  Guess again.

—–How About the Civil War Era, were they the first?  You’re getting warmer.  There were a whole bunch of people who espoused some kind of Socialism and were active in Abolitionism as well; but no, they weren’t the first, not by a longshot.

—–How About the Early decades of the Nineteenth Century, were there Socialists around during the Early Republic?  Yes, there were and in addition to those espousing political ideas, many organized communes were established as bold social and intellectual experiments, reminiscent of the Hippie communes of the 1960’s;  But no, sorry no brass ring; they weren’t the first.

OK.  If you’re still with me, let me clue you in: not only is Socialism as American as apple pie and a Thanksgiving Turkey, its origins in America go back to the very English first settlements–assuming we don’t include Native Americans, who lived in tribal communities without private property going back to the Mesolithic Era here.  It was, in fact, the early settlers of New England who first practiced Socialism, folk whom you may know as the Pilgrims.

Actually, there were two groups of settlers in New England, the ones we call Pilgrims (although they didn’t use that name) and the Puritans; the Plymouth Bay Colony and the Massachusetts Bay colony respectively.  According to my family’s genealogists we claim ancestors in both groups, although the lineage is a bit convoluted.  Regardless, these early settlers are usually held up as models of the Protestant Work Ethic and cited as positive role models for the Capitalist Way, which is a popular lie you no doubt were told in grammar school.

Protestants they were, and pretty austere ones at that, but they also did something modern Bible thumpers rarely seem to do; they read all the passages of the Bible, not just the ones that were convenient or suited some media evangelist’s get rich quick gospel.  If you get deeply into both the Old and New Testaments, you will find quite a bit there that does not jibe too well with modern notions of Capitalism and big business.  The Bible has things like, oh, a progressive income tax (OT), or, say, passages where it tells you to give all your possessions to the poor and follow Jesus (NT); stuff like that.

Eventually, of course, Mammon won out over Jehovah with the Puritans and they became prosperous smugglers, merchants, manufacturers, whalers, transporters of slaves and assorted other activities that made one filthy rich but are not particularly good for the soul.

If you travel through New England, you will find a vestige of the region’s socialist roots.  Just about every little town or village has a “commons” and, of course, the Boston Commons is well known to residents of Beantown.  Originally, every community’s land was held in “common” and distributed according to the town Elders’ dictates.

Across the state line in New York, the center of town is usually called the village “green” (as in “Tavern on the Green”) which is short for Bowling  Green.  Of course, the Dutch in New Amsterdam were fond of their bowling and would play Nine-Pins in the town square whenever weather allowed while quaffing the product of a nearby inn or tavern.  In Puritan New England, such merriment was strictly forbidden; hard work and prayer substituted for singing, dancing and gaming.

Plymounth Rock
A piece of the Rock–Plymouth Rock

When the Pilgrims first arrived in 1620, they did not have an easy time of it.  They did not arrive off the New England until November of that year, far too late for growing any crops and that first winter nearly half of the 102 colonists died.  Of more interest for our concern was the fact that, at first, everything that the colony produced was pooled together and held in the “common storehouse” at one end of the Plymouth settlement.  This system was in force for the first couple of years, partly out of necessity: the colony was facing starvation for first few seasons, and more indigent immigrants arrived by boat from England, but the extra mouths to feed were not accompanied by enough supplies to provide for them.  The Plymouth colonists at one point were reduced to stealing parched corn from a local Indian tribe to avoid starving.

plymouth-colony-samoset-granger
Local Native American leader Samoset welcomes the arriving English. They return the courtesy by stealing corn, which was better than the Jamestown colonists, who turned to cannibalism.

This communal system did not sit well with some of the more able bodied males in the colony, many of whom had migrated in hopes of making their fortune in the New World and not for religious reasons (they were called “the Strangers” by the more religious) and had no desire to provide for other men’s wives and children.  Governor Bradford and the English backers of the enterprise abolished the system of the common storehouse in 1623 and land was divided among settlers to farm individually.  However, the colony still retained communal title to the land even though it was farmed separately, and all the tools were still held in collectively and doled out as needed.  Moreover, meadowlands for the grazing of livestock were still managed in common, plus fishing, hunting and fowling rights were held in common as well, so the concept of private property and ownership still remained a weak one for some years.

The Puritan by Augustus Saint-Gaudens
The Puritan by Augustus Saint Gauden.  The Puritans were sober, industrious and, in the early days, socialists.

The story of the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, (begun by the Puritans, a different religious sect than the Congregationalist Pilgrims), was not dissimilar to that of the Plymouth colony, save that they were even more austere and, well, more puritanical. Moreover, the Puritan colony was planned from the start as a theocracy; in theory, not man, but God, ruled the Puritan communities.

Each new township established by the Puritan elders had about six to ten square miles of land, effectively some 30 to 40 thousand acres, and each resident of a township had access to the community’s common pasturage.  There was no particular ideology at work here, however, it was just the best way to organize a Godly community and, in many cases, they were simply continuing the traditional open field system they’d known in the Old Country, itself was a holdover from the middle ages.  As time went on, and austere virtue began giving way to unelightened self-interest and greed, and regulating the fair and proper use of the common lands of the New England communities became more and more bothersome for beleagered town elders having to discipline those who took more than their fair share.

In the end, the fact that most of the land in New England was ill suited to intensive farming probably had more influence in the breakdown of Puritan agrarian socialism than the economic superiority of Captitalism or any other economic theory.  Then too, many frugal Yankees found that building ships and transporting goods across the open seas was far more rewarding than the backbreaking work of being a Jabez Stone style farmer in a rock filled field.  Moreover, it became a firm tenet of Puritan belief that material wealth was Jehovah’s way of rewarding the virtuous–and by the end of the seventeenth century, Yankee merchants had become very virtous indeed.

Mass Bay Col coin
The Pine tree was the symbol of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In the end Money triumphed over virtue in Puritan New England.

 

 

 

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