CARL SCHURZ, AMERICAN SOCIALIST, ON “TRUE AMERICANISM”

Carl-Schurz 13th Sec of the Interior
Revolutionary, Soldier, Diplomat, Senator and 13th Secretary of the Interior, Carl Schurz was a dedicated reformer and patriotic American Socialist.

Carl Schurz was an American politician, soldier and diplomat, and a dedicated Socialist. He was born in Liblar, Germany and after attending a gymnasium, in 1847 he began pursuing a doctorate in History at the University of Bonn, with a view to ultimately teaching in a university. His studies were interrupted by the German Revolution of 1848. Like many idealistic students, 19 year old Carl became imbued with revolutionary fervor and Schurz became a leader of a student movement that promoted Social Democracy, being strongly influenced by Gottfried Kinkel. He joined the revolutionary socialists, fighting in several battles against the Prussian Army which had vowed to stamp out all political reform.

When the revolutionary army was finally crushed at Rastatt in 1849, Schurz escaped to Switzerland, aware that the Prussians intended to murder all their prisoners. He returned to Germany on a secretly to free his revolutionary mentor Kinkel from prison. The political climate in Europe after the suppression of the rebellions being hostile to all political reform, Schurz migrated to America, marrying and becoming involved in American politics, where he found like-minded folk such as himself in the new-born Republican Party.

Moving to the upper Mid-West, he reunited with a number of former “Forty-Eighters” who had settled there, many of whom were becoming involved in growing reform movements there such as Abolitionism and Women’s Suffrage. Schurz joined the Republican Party and actively campaigned for Lincoln in the election of 1860.

Carl Schurz in dashing Hussar uniform while serving under General Fremont Missouri Hist Soc

When the Civil War broke out, Schurz, with his previous military experience, volunteered for the Union Army and was active in motivating fellow German immigrants to also join the army. Eventually he rose to the rank of general, fighting in a number of battles. Lincoln  sent him back to Europe as Ambassador and after the war Schurz served in various capacities in government and politics.

Throughout the late nineteenth century, the Republican Party remained a haven for Socialists and other Progressive thinkers, of whom Schurz was one of the most prominent. He often aroused the ire of political opponents for his attempts at political reform, his championing of Native American rights, and his opposition to Imperialism. This speech, made later in life, reflects his views on true patriotism–versus the boastful and bellicose “jingoism” that was becoming popular.  Many of the sentiments expressed by Schurz in this speech are–unfortunately–as relevant today as when he spoke them.

“The True Americanism”

— Carl Schurz, The True Americanism“, address delivered in New York City at a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York, January 2, 1896.

What is the rule of honor to be observed by a power so strongly and so advantageously situated as this Republic is?

Of course I do not expect it meekly to pocket real insults if they should be offered to it. But, surely, it should not, as our boyish jingoes wish it to do, swagger about among the nations of the world, with a chip on its shoulder, shaking its fist in everybody’s face.

Of course, it should not tamely submit to real encroachments upon its rights. But, surely, it should not, whenever its own notions of right or interest collide with the notions of others, fall into hysterics and act as if it really feared for its own security and its very independence.

As a true gentleman, conscious of his strength and his dignity, it should be slow to take offense. In its dealings with other nations it should have scrupulous regard, not only for their rights, but also for their self-respect.

With all its latent resources for war, it should be the great peace power of the world. It should never forget what a proud privilege and what an inestimable blessing it is not to need and not to have big armies or navies to support.

It should seek to influence mankind, not by heavy artillery, but by good example and wise counsel. It should see its highest glory, not in battles won, but in wars prevented.

It should be so invariably just and fair, so trustworthy, so good tempered, so conciliatory, that other nations would instinctively turn to it as their mutual friend and the natural adjuster of their differences, thus making it the greatest preserver of the world’s peace.

This is not a mere idealistic fancy. It is the natural position of this great republic among the nations of the earth.

It is its noblest vocation, and it will be a glorious day for the United States when the good sense and the self-respect of the American people see in this their “manifest destiny.”

It all rests upon peace. Is not this peace with honor? There has, of late, been much loose speech about “Americanism.” Is not this good Americanism?

It is surely today the Americanism of those who love their country most. And I fervently hope that it will be and ever remain the Americanism of our children and our children’s children.

 

You Might Be A Socialist If…

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Oh No Socialism

With the defeat of Bernie Sanders’ FDR-Style “Democratic Socialist” candidacy and the modest reforms he proposed complete, all the affluent  Silicon Valley sycophants, Latté Liberals, NeoLib Corporatists and others posing as Progressives or Liberals can now breathe a collective sigh of relief in their wine caves now.

We can all relax, confident in the knowledge the right-wing “Centrist” candidacy of Uncle Joe has safely been propped up by the DNC’s creative vote counting in all the Super Tuesday States and with the remaining primaries halted only halfway through.

And what does it matter if #DementiaJoe can’t tell his wife from his sister, occasionally gropes other men’s wives, gets really creepy around pre-pubescent girls and occasionally rapes naïve young female staffers, why “Joe Biden is Joe Biden,” as Nancy Pelosi cryptically reassures us.

“Nothing Will Change” is the one campaign promise we can count on with MBNAJoe, as he surrounds himself with only the fattest of the fat-cat lobbyists and banksters in his proposed dream team cabinet. Yes, rest assured that not one iota of genuine reform will ever see the light of day should Big Bank Biden be elected come November. Of course, no matter how crooked, how demented, how much of a sexual predator he is, who ya gonna vote for–the Insane Clown President? The Duopoly again presents us with two evils and asks us to choose the lesser. There IS a better way and they know it.

However, even should The Not Trump candidate not win in November, hey, that’s OK too. ‘Cause Chuck, “I’m Helpless to Stop Them,” Schumer and Nancy, “Let Them Eat Jeni’s,” Pelosi will continue to have cover for giving the Republicans everything they want, all the while railing against The Insane Clown’s boorish behavior and his retarded rants. Meanwhile, both vote for bloated giveaways to billionaires, approve trillions for foreign wars, and write blank checks for fatally flawed war machines.

It would be good at this juncture, however, for us to do a brief self-assessment from the safety of our collective wine-cave quarantine, just to make sure no genuine progressive ideas have somehow insinuated themselves into our psyche. Of course, identity politics and virtue signaling are fine, providing those vague affirmations of moral superiority never result in real change. 

With all this in mind, following is a checklist of Progressive-Socialist ideas that have somehow managed to seep into the Corporatist bubble that has been carefully constructed around the American public over the past half century.

Much of it was originally introduced by those vile class traitors, the Roosevelts, both Teddy and Franklin Delano. Thankfully, Neo-Liberals, working on behalf of their Billionaires benefactors, have managed to expunge most of these dread reformers’ legacy since the 1990’s, even as they pretended to be carrying forward their ideals.

Review this list, and if you don’t say nay to most of it, there is a very real danger that you might be a closet Socialist without even realizing it!

So here goes, YOU MIGHT BE A SOCIALIST IF:

1)   You believe that healthcare is a basic human right or, worse still, that Medicare For All is somehow a viable alternative to the For-Profit Healthcare Industry, whose main goal is not to provide affordable health insurance but to maximize profitability for shareholders. 

No, our venerable employer-based healthcare was good enough for grandpa, (who died at the age of 55) and so it damn well better be good for your grand-children, whether they have a corporate job or not. And recession, what recession? Never happen! Cough once if you agree, cough twice or more and collapse in a high fever if you disagree.

2)   You might be a Socialist if you believe all people should be paid a living wage. This is one of those insidious ideas, like Unions, that really should have been stamped out by now.

For years, our Good Friends in the GOP—the Grand Ole Plutocrats—tried to sneak in a “sub-minimum” wage as a way of getting people used to starving, after working their butts off in dangerous working conditions, or be glad to work overtime just to be able to pay the rent.

The way the Clinton and Dubya Administrations handled the demand for higher wages (ya know, that good ole law of supply & demand) was to CHEAT. Without changing any laws, both presidential NEO’s chose not to enforce immigration rules and opened the floodgates to illegal immigration.

In truth, immigration had already been boosted manifold by the United States’ own awful “free” trade deals, which hurt workers in poor countries as much as it hurt workers in the US. That, combined with our never-ending regime change coups and wars, had made life a living hell in Third World countries.

In the late 90’s and into the Oh-Oh! Decade, where a skilled Union tradesman might have gotten thirty dollars an hour, unskilled  illegal immigrants, desperate for work, were glad to do the same labor for thirty dollars a day, although not as well. And if the roof of a million-dollar home suddenly came off in high winds because a construction crew of unskilled illegals hadn’t nailed it properly to the beams, well, after all, you get what you pay for—and the developer made his profit, didn’t he?

Of course, once Dubya left office, suddenly illegal immigrants became demonized and refugees became convenient scape-goats for the, by now, obvious de-industrialization of America. Jobs that paid high wages became fewer and farther between, regime-change wars remain a boom industry (or I should say KA-BOOM!) and Globalist George Soros’ billions quietly subsidizes worldwide floods of desperate immigrants, enabling them to travel thousands of miles in search of work.

And what did Mr. NICE GUY Barack Obama do? Why, more awful trade deals and more regime change wars, even as he upped deportation’s for those who were fleeing devastation, death, disease and famine. Having turned a blind eye for years, the Republicans did a 180 and now immigrants became the villains, not multi-national corporations. How better to keep people in line than by setting one group of underpaid workers against another, even more destitute group?

Trump may gloat over putting children behind bars, but let’s not forget that MR. CLEAN, Barack Obama, was the one who first came up with that idea and despite the Insane Clown’s bluster and BS, Obama still reigns supreme as “Deporter in Chief” of Illegals.

Now Wall Street and Silicon Valley have had another great idea: why have employees at all? The growth of the “independent contractor” model, which Silicon Valley loves so much, frees Capitalists from any worries about being forced to pay $15 an hour, or $12 and hour or even the beloved good ol’ $7.25. Hell, in some cities, Uber drivers are lucky to net $3.00 a hour in real income! But that’s the American Way, ain’t it? And if you don’t think so, you MUST be a Socialist!

Unions, a living wage, affordable housing: all dread Socialist traps for the unwary! Begone, I say! Let them eat Jeni’s ice-cream!—providing you can get past the security guards of Nancy Pelosi’s gated community, or the electrified wire and the attack dogs.

3)   You might be a Socialist, for sure, if believe we should have Free College Education.

For those too young to remember the bad old days, this Dread Red idea had actually been a reality in the USA once upon a time, but fortunately, since the beloved advent of St. Ronald Reagan and Trickle Down Everything, state universities and colleges have been charging ever-increasing tuition, assuring the huddled masses remain in blissful ignorance—and low paying jobs. Then came the for-profit colleges that provided expensive educations in fields for which there was absolutely no demand. And, thanks in large part to Creepy Uncle Joe, the DINO who is currently being beatified as the patron saint of child molesters, the NEO’s made it impossible for anyone burdened by huge student debts to declare bankruptcy, even if you’d been scammed by these for-profit shyster schools.

Oh, did I forget to mention that free public college education was originally put into law in 1862 by a political party founded by Socialists? Today we call it the Republican Party. Like the Democrats, the Republicans have changed a bit since they were founded.

4)   In a similar vein, mainly the jugular, you might be a Socialist if think the US could and should forgive all student debt.

Since the Federal Government subsidizes almost all student loans, this is one of the more do-able Socialist programs. Unfortunately, the mantra used against this and other Socialist reforms of “how ya gonna pay for it” which had served as a bulwark against any and all humane proposals to make life in America better, was made inoperable by the Congress’ transfer this spring of TRILLIONS of dollars to the big banks and other big businesses with no strings attached. Not that Congress has ever worried about funding bloated defense budgets and regime change Oil Wars.

5)   You might be a Socialist if you believe the government should subsidize rail transportation, both locally and nationally.

In Europe, citizens and tourists can ride comfortably and cheaply from city to city by train, while mass transit within cities have long been a given of modern civilized society. Not only do all modern nations have national rail systems, fully funded by their governments, the United States of America actually paid to rebuild western Europe’s railroads after World War II, which was only fair, since we bombed the crap out of them during the war. Still, what we could afford to do for Europe was NEVER done for our own passenger rails, which have withered on the vine since the 1940’s. Thank GM and the Laissez Fairies for that.

The argument against this Socialistic subsidized rail system one commonly hears is that if passenger trains can’t pay their own way, the government has no business subsidizing them. Which leads us to:

6)   You might be a Socialist if you believe the government should provide a free transportation systems in the form of Federal, state and local highways, not to mention more pedestrian Socialist conveyances such as sidewalks.

Depending on where you live, you might know roads with names like Gallatin Pike, Hillsboro Pike, Murfreesboro Pike, and the like. Or, say, do you favor Tollhouse Cookies? All these are vestiges of a time when the main roads in the nation were for-profit ventures, organized by private stock companies to enrich their investors, and tollhouses were where the fares to travel those roads were collected.

Before that, the only way to get long distances was on The King’s Highway, which was actually owned by the king (or queen) and mainly reserved for sovereign lords to transport armies from one place to another to bash disloyal subjects. Only as a secondary benefit were ordinary folk allowed to travel those roads. So, no, the government building and maintaining roads, highways and interstate freeways was not always a given and are definitely socialistic in their very conception.

7)   You also might be a Socialist if you believe the government should provide fire and police protection, water and sewer services and assorted other public utilities most Americans now take for granted.

Recently Joe Rogan had a dufus of a politician on his show who, when confronted with the fact that such things are inherently Socialistic in nature, tried to counter that no, they were a “public service.” When Joe pointed out that, as a public service, they were paid for by the government, Congressman Dufus countered that no, they were a “public good.” Rogan kept pressing him on his obtuse illogic, but, as the saying goes, you can’t fix stupid.

In the early Republic there was no organized police or fire services in the cities and as far as drinking water went, people dug their own individual wells, often within feet of public latrines. Then they wondered why Typhus, Diphtheria, Yellow Fever, Smallpox and a host of other deadly diseases broke out so often! The glaring defects of Laissez Faire policies in running modern cities soon became apparent to many people.

In the late nineteenth century, “Sewer Socialists” and other reformers increasingly replaced corrupt graft-ridden city governments staffed by cronyism and not only instituted honest governments run with an apolitical civil service, but promoted government-funded (that is Socialistic) public water and sewer systems as a way to combat the deadly pandemics that beset the burgeoning American urban landscape.

There were volunteer fire-fighting companies in early American cities, to be sure, but these were often for-profit entities, being paid by insurance companies to only put out fires on homes that were insured, and as often as not the volunteer companies were more interested in fighting each other than fighting the fires . These volunteer groups, like the early street gangs, also served as political organizations. Boss Tweed got his start as Captain of one such volunteer fire-fighting company: Americus Engine Company Number 6 (“The Big Six”). The idea that professional full-time firemen, dedicated to fighting fires no matter who owned the property, may seem common sense today, but it took a number of devastating city fires in nineteenth century American for this Socialistic institution to take hold.

Likewise, in the early Republic, there were no organized police forces. In New England, town Constables existed, but they were unarmed and generally more concerned with public drunkenness or making sure citizens attended church than fighting crime. The true first police force wasn’t formed until 1838, with other cities following suit soon after. These early police forces were less than stellar institutions, with graft and corruption endemic, and in any case their main job was to protect the private property of the wealthy elite, not  to keep the peace or protect citizens from harm.

In the rural South, the situation was worse, since the county sheriff’s departments had their origins in the ante-bellum “slave patrols” whose main job was to keep slaves from running away or rebelling. Members of slave patrols were often far more violent and sadistic than the slave owners themselves, being drawn from poor whites, who as a class tended to be resentful of having to compete for employment with an unpaid Black workforce.

In post-war era, Progressives and Socialists, including leaders like Teddy Roosevelt, pushed to “clean up” the police and have them serve the general good, not just the needs of the affluent. 

8)   You might be a Socialist If you have ever recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

OK, this is a trick question. But ever since the NEO’s have brought back the McCarthy-Era smear tactic of  “guilt by association” so that anyone, left or right, can be tarred as a Russian “bot” who dares to point out the simple truth that the Russians didn’t “hack” the DNC emails in 2016, we can safely include anyone who recites a pledge written by a Socialist to be also tainted with Socialism. 

The Pledge of Allegiance in its present form was created by a Christian Socialist.   Francis Bellamy, was a devout Christian, but also a dedicated Socialist and also quite patriotic. He wanted to inculcate a greater sense of loyalty, especially among children and recent immigrants.

Bellamy had considered using the slogan of the French Revolution, Liberté, égalité, fraternité as a basis for the national pledge, but he thought that fraternity was “too remote of realization.” Likewise with equality; while he was for equality in principle, he was aware that, at that point, neither women nor blacks were treated equally in America, so that it would be a “dubious” word in a national pledge. Finally, Bellamy concluded, “Liberty and justice were surely basic, were undebatable, and were all that any one Nation could handle. If they were exercised for all. They involved the spirit of equality and fraternity.”

The Pledge was first published on Sept. 8, 1892 and quickly became universally accepted, although it would still be decades before it was made official. Although Bellamy was a Protestant minister as well as a dedicated Socialist, the pledge as he composed it did not include the phrase “under God.” That wasn’t added until the 1950’s during the “Red Scare” to weed out lefties, ‘cause, don’t ya know, all them Socialists is Godless.

in fact, a previous pledge had included God in it, but Bellamy, although a devout Christian, deliberately excluded it because he wanted the pledge to be as inclusive as possible. Well, that’s a “godless socialist” for you!

9)   You might be a Socialist if you have ever sung “America the Beautiful.”

Yup, here again, we have a beloved patriotic song—which many would prefer as the National Anthem to the racist and bellicose Star Spangled Banner—that was penned by a Socialist. In fact, the author was Christian Socialist and, many say, a Lesbian. We should also add that not only was the author a Socialist, but an ardent foe of American imperialism as well, plus she was an activist for immigrants, minorities, the poor, unions, women’s rights, and education among other causes. A dangerous foe of Capitalism if ever there was one!

The author of this almost-the-national-anthem paean to American patriotism was Katherine Lee Bates—no relation to actress Kathy Bates of “Misery” fame. Katherine was inspired to write a song that virtually every schoolchild knows and which is sung in many churches as a hymn, during a train trip to Colorado to teach a summer college class.

Bates, unusual for her day, was a highly educated professional woman, a Professor of English at Wellesley College, and her trip was something of a busman’s holiday. A number of the sights on her trip inspired her, including a visit to the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the so-called “White City,” and traveling farther west she viewed the vast wheat fields of Kansas growing and blowing in the wind. Above all she was inspired viewing the “fruited plains” from high atop Pikes Peak, where the words of the poem began to flood into her mind. All that natural beauty is apparent in the opening lyrics of “America the Beautiful.” But a closer reading of the stanzas also reveals her distinctly Socialist and Progressive ideas about how our nation should be.

There are no “rockets red glare” in “America the Beautiful.” Rather, we hear of “amber waves of grain” and “the enameled plain,” as well as “thine alabaster cities gleam” (that White City she saw in Chicago). But Ms. Bates also asked God to bless the country with moral reform, end injustice and to avoid Imperialism: “God mend thine every flaw/Confirm thy soul in self-control/Thy liberty in law,” that those Alabaster cities should not only gleam, but “gleam/Undimmed by human tears!” Bates’ poem also calls out the greed of the Robber Barons Capitalists and asks that God shed His grace, “Till selfish gain no longer stain/The banner of the free!” Nor did the Professor shy from summoning the image of fraternity as well as equality: “And crown thy good with brotherhood/From sea to shining sea.”

For Christian Socialist Bates, America being great was not enough; observing that “countries such as England failed because, while they may have been ‘great’ they had not been “good.” She asserted that, “unless we are willing to crown our greatness with goodness, and our bounty with brotherhood, our beloved America may go the same way.” The Socialist’s poem was first published in the religious journal, The Congregationalist, in 1895, but it wasn’t married to its current melody until 1910. It’s been a patriotic staple ever since.

katharine-lee-bates meme

10)   Finally, you might be a Socialist if you believe either of these statements: 

  1. “The value of any commodity, therefore, to the person who possesses it, and who means not to use or consume it himself, but to exchange it for other commodities, is equal to the quantity of labor which it enables him to purchase or command. Labor, therefore, is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities.” Or, that: “Labor alone, therefore, never varying in its own value, is alone the ultimate and real standard by which the value of all commodities can at all times and places be estimated and compared. It is their real price; money is their nominal price.” (Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations)
  2. “… value can, does and should increase in relation to the amount of labor which has been expended in the improvement of commodities” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae)
  3. “all goods, considered economically, are only the product of labor and cost nothing except labor” (Karl Marx, Das Kapital)

organize-and-take-the-big-bag

 

If this list has issues or institutions you find congenial, DON’T PANIC! There is still time to purge yourself of the double-speak that infects your psyche. While I don’t advocate taking a Chloroquine enema or swallowing UV light-bulbs, you might consider a double shot of Grey Goose as antiseptic, coupled with a massive dose of Bloomberg News, followed by an eye-wash of fresh copies of Forbes and the Wall Street Journal. Then read back issues of WAPO or the NYT and let their “unnamed high placed sources” in the Intelligence Community (probably the reporter’s local bartender) reassure you that’s it’s all a plot by the Ruskies to rig the elections, or the economy, or the alt right/alt left media or whatever con they currently have running. Because the Military Industrial Complex NEVER lies, right?

And before you return to watching Rachel Maddow, or Loveable Ellen, or pseudo-Liberal Joy, don’t forget to go to your 25k freezer and consume several pints of Jeni’s artisanal ice cream to clear the palate of any lingering bad taste that these Socialist ideas may leave in your mouth.

 

 

Continue reading “You Might Be A Socialist If…”

AMERICA 1620: Early American Socialism

“Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold”     Acts 4:34

 

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A communistic communal feast, where everyone, regardless of their station, equally shared the fruits of their common labor–sometimes known as “The First Thanksgiving.”

Recently, the one-time “Newspaper of Record,” which in recent years has become the unofficial shill for the Military Industrial Complex, issued a supplement intended, both to assume the mantle of moral superiority, as well as to rewrite American history from the perspective of Identity Politics. The Sunday Times Magazine, thus dedicated an entire issue to virtue signaling, entitled “America 1619,” with its stated goal, “to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year,” the year the first Blacks arrived at Jamestown.
     To be sure, all those awful things the NYT describes that the southern Planter Class—the Slaveocracy—did, as well the active participation of northern Industrialists in it—is all quite true and bears commemorating. But, if we are going to choose an arbitrary starting point for American history while still ignoring all the regime-change wars and Oil Oligopoly sponsored mass murders which The Grey Lady has enabled–or at best ignored–in the last twenty years, instead of the actual beginning point, I humbly propose that we choose instead the following year, 1620. This is the year when the first successful Socialist commune was established along the coast of New England: the Plymouth Colony.

While the history of American Socialism is not exactly a deep secret, most Americans, even academics, have a very poor understanding of what it is.

In whatever manner or form one may regard Socialism, be it as a social, political or economic movement, the chances are good that you are wrong in your assumptions.

At best, most voters know by now that Bernie Sanders is far from being the first socialist to appear on the American scene; but how far back does Socialist, much less Communist, economic behavior go?

—–Think it was begun by members of the American Communist Party in the 1930’s? 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; they were instrumental in the early labor movement and as mayors of cities and congressmen they had a spotless reputation for honesty and good government; but no they were not the first. But when Woodrow Wilson, pseudo-Progressive and friend of the second Klu Klux Klan lied us into World War, the Socialist opposed him and their political rights were brutally and unconstitutionally suppressed, Guess again.

—–How About Socialism during the Civil War Era, were they first? You’re getting warmer. There were a whole bunch of people who espoused Socialism before and during the War and were active in Abolitionism as well. To a man they volunteered to fight for the Union and helped rescue our nation from disunion, disloyalty and slavery; 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 the Thanksgiving Turkey, its origins in America go back to the very first English settlements–assuming, of course, we don’t include Native Americans, who lived successfully in communities devoid of private property in North America, and practiced direct democracy going back to at least the Mesolithic Era.

It was, in fact, the earliest settlers of New England who first practiced Socialism, folk whom you may know as the Pilgrims. Curiously, most Socialist historians seem to ignore this important milestone (or Plymouth Rock, if you will), leaving it to any number of right wing Conservative Christian pundits to totally misrepresent what actually happened.

Actually, there were two groups of early 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 can claim ancestors in both groups, although the lineage is a bit convoluted, (who knows, perhaps they said hullo! to Elizabeth Warren’s putative predecessors).  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 were, no doubt, fed in grade 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 conform too well with modern notions of Capitalism and big business. The Bible contains 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 among the Puritans and they became prosperous smugglers, merchants, manufacturers, whalers, transporters of slaves and assorted other activities that made one filthy rich, but were not particularly good for the soul.

If you travel through New England, even today, you will still find at least one 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 used 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”), 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, although alcohol was still allowed in moderation.

Plymounth Rock
A piece of the rock–Plymouth Rock that is, after several centuries of souvenir hunters have whittled it down.

When the first 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 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 (they later made restitution, with apologies).

plymouth-colony-samoset-granger
Local Native American leader Samoset welcomes the arriving Pilgrims.  Living communally much like the Native Americans, the Pilgrims tried to deal fairly with the natives, in contrast to “rugged individualism” of the Jamestown colonists, who were so busy hunting for gold they couldn’t be bothered to plant crops and at one point turned to cannibalism–a foreshadowing of the later Capitalist system, which depended on King Cotton and the Slaveocracy.

Local Native American leader Samoset welcomes the arriving Pilgrims. Living communally much like the Native Americans, the Pilgrims tried to deal fairly with the natives, in contrast to the “rugged individualism” of the Jamestown colonists, who were so busy hunting for gold they couldn’t be bothered to plant crops and at one point even turned to cannibalism.

This communal system did not sit well with some of the more able bodied males in the new colony: they had migrated in hopes of making a quick fortune in the New World in Virginia and perhaps join in on a pirate raid or two against Spanish treasure galleons, not sail along a frigid shore for religious reasons (these worldly folk were called “the Strangers” by the more godly) and had no desire to provide for other men’s wives and children when quick and easy riches were to be had with little work.

Eventually, in 1623, Governor Bradford and the English financiers of the enterprise abolished the system of the common storehouse and land was divided among settlers to farm as “families.” However, these families included all single unattached males, who greatly outnumbered the females, so the familial units, so-called, were not actually blood relations. The colony as a whole, moreover, still retained communal title to the land, even though it was farmed separately, and all the tools were still held collectively and doled out “each according to his need.” 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 private property and individual ownership remained absent from Plymouth for some years.

The Puritan by Augustus Saint-Gaudens
“The Puritan” by Augustus Saint-Gaudens: forthright, devout and, in the early days, Socialist.

As a City on a Hill
The story of the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, (begun by the Puritans, a different religious sect than the Pilgrims), was not dissimilar to that of the Plymouth colony, save that they were even more austere and, well, more puritanical.

The Puritan colony was planned from the start as a theocracy. In theory, not man but God ruled the Puritan communities. This Utopian society was intended to be an example to the world–as Governor Winthrop put it, “as a city upon a hill”–and it was to be organized along socialist–albeit Biblical socialist–lines. While initially centrally planned and organized by the Puritan leaders in England, as the colony grew each new unit, or township, was set up as an individual community, semi-autonomous, and socialistic in its economic organization.

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 common pasturage. There was no particular political ideology at work here, however; it was simply 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. The main difference was that in the New World they were working the fields in common for their own benefit, not for some oppressive lord or king. During the English Civil War, in the 1740’s and later, however, there were egalitarian Socialist groups, such as the Levelers, even more radical than the mainstream Puritans, who advocated an extreme communistic ideology.

As time went on, the virtues of the early Puritans gave way to un-elightened self-interest and greed. Regulating the fair and proper use of the common lands of the New England communities became more and more bothersome for beleaguered town elders constantly having to discipline those few 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 on the breakdown of the Puritan’s Agrarian Socialism than the economic superiority of “Capitalism” (which didn’t yet exist) or any other economic theory.

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 virtuous indeed.

But while greed ultimately triumphed over virtue in the Puritan heart, it should never be forgotten that the edifice of their later prosperity was firmly rooted upon the solid economic foundations which Puritan Socialism had lain. Moreover, during the early Republic, the Congregationalists—successors to both the Pilgrims and the Puritans–were one of a very few religious sects who fought hard against the evils of the Slavocracy, sometimes with their lives.

When taking in all the facts that modern schoolbooks leave out, the “City on a Hill” that is America, owes far more to early American Socialism in all its forms than most historians and popular pundits are still willing to concede.

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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

THOMAS PAINE: PATRIOT & SOCIALIST

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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.

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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