07 November 2011

For a Cooperative Commonwealth

Why socialism?

Because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Why capitalism?

Because the greed of the few overshadows the needs of the many.

Why do common working class people defend capitalism and Authority?

Because each of them fancies themselves a house slave rather than a common field slave. 

Why do they do this even against their own interests?

Because everyone wants to be a slave-owner. 

Why pursue this goal when its attainment is only an illusion?

Because they confuse delusion for true hope and will do anything to preserve it.

Socialism, real socialism, is not some invasive foreign import but is as American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie. 

Real socialism (as opposed to what the Bolsheviks erected under Lenin’s direction in the former Russian Empire after their coup d’etat known as the October Revolution) is not the end of democracy but the beginning of true democracy.  Without economic, social, and industrial democracy, political democracy is meaningless. 

Other than those who followed the line of Lenin and his disciples and their ideological offspring, American socialists never wanted to set up anything like a “People’s Democratic Socialist Workers Republic” or a “dictatorship of the proletariat” controlled by a party “vanguard”.  No, their idea was the Cooperative Commonwealth.

Vladimir Lenin never made any attempt to introduce socialism to the Soviet Union.  By his own declaration, he and his disciples set up what he himself called state capitalism, modeled, according to him, upon that of the Prussian Junker capitalists.  The very system against which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto and first campaigned as leaders of the Communist League. 

Leninism and all of its ideological offspring (Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism, Fidelism, etc.) are an aberration from, not the fulfillment of, Marx and Engels.  Their true ideological heir was not Vladimir Lenin but Karl Kautsky.

Many socialists today recognize as the progenitor of modern socialism the same person recognized as the godfather of Irish and Scottish as well as English republicanism, a hero of the French Revolution, and father of American independence: Thomas Paine.  Paine cut his political teeth with a letter to Parliament protesting the working conditions of the officers of excise in the United Kingdom.  It was the quality of his writing in that letter which led Ben Franklin to conscript him for the movement in America.

To most Americans, the name Thomas Paine means Common Sense and The Crisis, while to the rest of the world it also means Rights of Man and Age of Reason.  The first major advocate of independence in the English colonies, Paine may very well be called the First American, in the sense of “American” being a citizen of the United States. 

His Rights of Man was a defense of republicanism and of the French Revolution against former ally Edmund Burke’s advocacy of constitutional monarchism and condemnation of events in France.  His Age of Reasondefended freedom of thought and the creation of an atmosphere in which that can grow against ideology, superstition, and theocracy.

Not as well known other than by historically-minded socialists is Paine’s staunch advocacy of the rights of workers as first evidenced in the above-mentioned letter.  He also strongly opposed and wrote essays againstslavery, illiteracy, and poverty, and other social evils, as well as for the equal rights of women, public education, universal suffrage, old-age pensions, a guaranteed income, and the fair distribution of land.  In many respects, Paine was far ahead of his time.

The very first socialist party (which also functioned as a labor union) in the world was founded in New York City and Philadelphia in 1828.  It lasted only five years but left its mark on America and the rest of the world.

Though they had been involved in other organizations previously, when Marx and Engels first put together their own organization, they called it the Committees of Correspondence, the same name used by the Patriots of colonial and revolutionary America.

Always in favor of any advance toward actual freedom for all rather than an ideological purist, Marx strongly supported the cause of the Union as a reporter in New York City during the War Between the States.  This despite his sharing of President Lincoln’s misgivings to Col. Wilkins about the “money power of this country”.  In the question of imperial capitalism versus the planter slavocracy, the choice for Marx was easy.

When Marx and Engels helped found the International Workingmens Association (the First International, or IWA) in 1864, they clearly anticipated the coming horrific abuses of the Second Industrial Revolution that began around 1867 and moved directly into the Gilded Age of the later 19thcentury.  The IWA gained its first American section in 1867 and by 1870 had enough sections to support a Central Committee of the IWA for North America. 

The following year the more than thirty sections of the IWA in America formed the North American Federation of the IWA.  Rather than being largely an immigrants’ organization as many so often accuse, the IWA in America included such leading figures as suffragette pioneer Victoria Woodhull and former slave Frederick Douglas.

In 1872, after the IWA Congress at The Hague in which the followers of the anarchist Mikail Bakunin left the International to form their own group, the international headquarters of the IWA moved to New York City.  There it remained for the next four years, until its international congress voted to dissolve in 1876. 

Immediately, the remaining American sections joined together with other groups in the country at the convention hall to form the Workingmens Party of America.  In time this became the Socialist Labor Party of America (SLPA).  The SLPA did, unlike its immediate predecessor, devolve into largely a German-language organization, divorced from the American public and the American working class as a whole.  SLPA members also strayed into the increasingly extremist anarchism of Bakunin’s followers, many leaving to form violent anarchist groups.

Both trends in the SLPA continued until reined in first by Laurence Gronlund, who in 1884 published an examination of Marxist doctrine aimed at the American worker called The Cooperative Commonwealth in its Outlines, an Exposition of Modern Socialism, and second by Daniel DeLeon, who took the helm of the party, put it on a strictly Marxist course, and led it until his death in 1914.

Gronlund’s work gave a name by which American socialists of the late 19thcentury and well into the early 20th century referred to their ultimate goal.  But the work which painted a more accurate picture of what American socialists then and now have always wanted was written by Edward Bellamy, called Looking Backward.  Gronlund was so impressed he withdrew his own work from publication, at least for several years.

Bellamy’s Looking Backward is a science fiction novel about a man who goes to sleep in his basement in the late 19th century and wakes up in the year 2000 in which the needs of the many outweigh the greed of the few.  Rather than dictating how the coming Cooperative Commonwealth should run, he drew a portrait what it could be like.

The works of Horatio Alger still hang like a yoke around the necks of the American poor and middle class.  A very anti-FDR granddaughter of Laura Engels Wilder edited out all references to public support and mutual assistance from her grandmother’s journals of life on the frontier to such an extent that they became fiction.  The silent film “Birth of a Nation”, inspired by the book The Clansman, gave rise to the birth of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Therefore, the American socialist movement’s attraction to a work of fiction in this country is anything but unique.  Of course, American socialists realized that Looking Backward was a work of fiction, unlike their bigoted opposites in the Knights of the KKK.

A trend developed within American socialism based on the vision Edward Bellamy painted on the canvas of book’s pages that came to be called Nationalism.  This form of Nationalism was specifically referred to Nation versus Capital, or citizenship versus entrepreneurship, rather than bigoted, exclusive chauvninism.

Edward had a cousin named Francis, who was a Baptist preacher and in 1892 published what he named the Pledge of Allegiance, with the aim of encouraging children’s focus on each other and on fellow citizens for direction and to support rather than looking to the robber barons then currently stealing the country blind.

What Francis originally wrote was: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, indivisible, with liberty, equality, fraternity, and justice for all.”

As you can see from the wording in the original, the focus was on the republic than the flag as idol.  Besides his pastorship and his membership on the Board of Education, Francis worked for a company which produced flags.  In addition to his own motives, Francis’ bosses wanted to use his pledge, his encouragement to good citizenship, to sell flags to American schools, which as the time did not commonly fly them.

Francis’ editor immediately struck out the word “equality”, the first time Francis’ pledge was butchered (“my flag” was changed to “the Flag of the United States of America” in 1924 and the phrase “under God” inserted in 1954).  The editor did not want to offend anyone at height of Jim Crow.  Still, the pledge focused on the republic and citizens to each other.

The Pledge of Allegiance and flags in nearly all Americans schools both came out of American socialism.  Remember that next time you hear or say the pledge or stand for the “Star-Spangled Banner” at a sports game

Around the same time of Ralph was publishing his pledge, another figure who became a giant of American socialism began to make his considerable presence known: Eugene Debs, who led the American Railway Union in the last decade of the 19th century and would go on to found and preside over the Socialist Party of America for most of the first two decades of the 20th century.

Debs and DeLeon, frequently referenced the Founding Fathers individually and collectively.  One of DeLeon’s earliest essays was “The Voice of Madison”.  In spite of their rivalry, Debs and DeLeon ultimately respected each other and worked together on several projects, such joining with Bill Haywood to create as the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905.

Most Americans are not aware that Jack London, best known for literary expressions of man’s rugged individualism in the face of wild nature such asThe Call of the Wild and White Fang, was one of the leading literary lights of the Socialist Party, founding—along with Clarence Darrow, Walter Lippman, Helen Keller, Upton Sinclair, and others—the SPA’s Intercollegiate Socialist Society.  London’s socialist writings include the futuristic novel The Iron Heeland his nonfiction novel People of the Abyss.

The growing American socialist movement found itself surrounded and vulnerable in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution in February 1917 and the Bolshevik Revolution in October the same year.  What stunted its further growth was the combination of persecution by the government and splits within its own ranks caused by the hands of Lenin and his inner circle reaching out to control the whole international movement with as iron a hand as they controlled Russia.

Until Lenin and his clique removed their cloaks and showed their true colors, praise for their accomplishment in the October “Revolution” (coup d’etat) was well nigh universal among socialists world-wide.  Ironically, one of the more moderate Bolsheviks, the only major figure in Russia at the February Revolution and one willing to work with Mensheviks, liberal democrats, and others, was Josef Stalin.  Clearly he changed over the years.

Once news began to trickle out about the lack of real democracy, the increasing centralized control by the highest organs of the Party with no input from below appreciated, various atrocities, and the emasculation of the soviets, the councils of the people in whose name Lenin & Co. ruled with an iron heel, respected socialist leaders spoke out loudly.

Rosa Luxemburg was one of the first, and there is suspicion among some that Lenin, or at least the Comintern, the Third or Communist, International chaired by Zinoviev, may have been at least indirectly responsible for her death.  From America, Debs, DeLeon, and virtually every American socialist not part of the Communist Party joined such international voices as Scotland’s John Maclean in condemning the Bolshevik coup once it became apparent that is what it was.

Kautsky remarked at the time that, “Socialism without democracy is unthinkable,” echoing Luxemburg’s earlier statement that, “There is no democracy without socialism, and there is no socialism without democracy.”

One can easily imagine Marx looking at the events in Russia, shaking his head, and saying, “If this is Marxism, all I can say is that I am not a Marxist”.

Socialism, and American socialism at that, gave the world nonviolence as a means of mass social protest.

Nonviolence civil disobedience as a mass social protest tactic began in Spokane, Washington, in 1908, during the Free Speech fights of the Industrial Workers of the World with the municipal government of that city. Wobblies were perturbed by the fact that whenever one of them gave a speech in the street, he or she was arrested for disturbing the peace while the Salvation Army went unmolested doing the same even to the music of a brass band.

The Wobblies sent out a call to all men willing to be arrested. One would take the soapbox, literally, speak until arrested upon which another would take his place. So many volunteers showed that soon both the city and county jails were packed, and eventually the city surrendered.

It was from the Wobblies that Gandhi derived the practical application of his principle of nonviolence, and, of course, from Gandhi that King derived his own. Ironically, one of the chief developers of the Wobblies’ tactics was none other than Irish socialist James Connolly, who eight years later was shot in Kilmainham Jail in Dublin, Ireland while tied to a chair because of wounds he received in the Easter Rising.

Connolly started his socialist political career in his Scottish hometown of Edinburgh before moving to Ireland, then America, then back to Ireland.

Neoliberalism, the economic philosophy guiding every American administration since Ronald Reagan and imitated by governments and heads-of-state across the world (including every President in the Islamic Republic since Rafsanjani), has given the private sector, Corporate America, the main role in forming economic and social policy.  The way to do this, they say, is through free enterprise, open markets, abolition of tariffs, turning governmental functions over to private corporations, deregulation of industry and finance, slashing of support for higher education, and destruction of organizations of the working- and middle-classes.

Before the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who in order to save capitalism forced the plutocrats to admit they couldn’t plunder resources and steal the country blind without repercussions, all of the above were features of the unbridled greed which had ruled America since the 18th century.

So, let’s take a look and see how letting the marketplace take care of just its own affairs has worked out.

Since 1789, the United States of America has experienced bank panics accompanied by stock market crashes in 1792, 1796, 1819, 1837, 1847, 1873, 1884, 1893, 1896, 1901, 1907, 1929, and 2007.

In that period there have been bank panics additionally in 1797, 1825, 1866, 1910, and 1911, but without stock market crashes.

Also in that period there have been stock market crashes in 1869, 1882, 1920, 1929, 1937, 1973, 1980, 1982, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2008, 2009, 2010 (twice), and 2011.

During that time frame, the republic and its citizens have experienced economic recessions and depressions in the periods of 1796-1799, 1815-1821, 1836-1843, 1857-1858, 1873-1879, 1882-1885, 1893-1896, 1907-1908, 1918-1919, 1920-1921 (termed a depression, with which the Roaring Twenties both began and ended), 1929-1947, 1949, 1953-1954, 1958, 1960-1961, 1969-1970, 1973-1975, 1980, 1981-1982, 1990-1992, 2000-2003, and 2007-present.

Keep in mind these figures are according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the same clueless idiots who declared that the recession ended in July 2009.

This state of affairs is a major reason why people are Occupying Wall Street, in Manhattan, in the rest of New York City, in every state and major city across America, and why it has spread across the world.

Of the two methods of a “weaker” opponent carrying out a war of attrition against a superior foe, guerrilla war and nonviolence, nonviolence is the only one that permits eventual reconciliation while allowing both sides to save face.  Historical experience has shown that when a minority gets into power using violence, it never ends well.  Take, for example, the Montagnards (usually but incorrectly called Jacobins) of the French Revolution, the Bolsheviks of the Russian Revolution, or the Khomeinists of the Iran Revolution.

At Tyner Junior High School, there was a small group of us who got picked on a lot. Then one day we were standing around and decided, “Hey, an injury to one of us is an injury to all of us”. So, when one of us got picked on, we all would go meet the bully and tell him he would have to fight each of us one at a time, or he could quit.

That started when we were in 7th grade, and by 9th grade there were a few hundred of us. We never picked fights or pushed anyone around, but we did stand up for each other, and even kids outside our group. And we never had to fight, not even once. We were the runts, but not even the biggest bully wants to fight 200 runts, even one at a time.

That’s what’s happening now in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan and in locations all across the United States and the world.

Robin Williams needs to go to New York City and do his J.B. Stoner imitation for the gods of Wall Street: "Look here, dudes; does the name 'Custer' mean anything to you?"

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