30 January 2012

Social class in America and a VERY brief history of Capitalism

“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” (Johann Wolfgang van Goethe)

To paraphrase Ben Martin in “The Patriot”, when the United States was founded, we traded one tyrant three thousand miles away for three thousand tyrants one mile away.  A national legislature made up of “Commons”, but not actual common people.  The Third Estate as our French cousins called it.

From medieval to early modern times, legislatures of European governments were divided into three distinct categories, more or less the same in all countries with only a few variations.  In the Estates General of France, for example, the First Estate was the clergy, particularly the higher clergy.  The Second Estate was the hereditary nobility.  The Third Estate was the “commoners” as a collective body, dominated by the wealthiest of the wealthy, almost all of them town-dwellers, or “bourgeoisie”, but including rich rural landholders and rentiers of the other-than-hereditary-aristocrat variety.

In Scotland, the Community of the Realm was divided into Prelates, Lairds, and Burghers, the latter being the same as the Third Estate.  In England, Parliament was made up of Lords Spiritual, Lords Temporal, and Commons, in this case including knights without other title along with burghers from the towns.  The Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire included Clergy, Nobility, and Burghers.

You can readily see the theocratic nature of European society at the time these legislatures were first composed in the fact that the first order was clerical in all cases.  As for the Third Estate, to give a general name for the same class in all countries, it and its electors were confined to the richest non-aristocrats, corresponding to what in ancient Rome became the equites, the richest of the rich plebes, equal in all but DNA to the patricii.

The same sort of men who belonged to the Third Estate in Europe made up the colonial legislatures in America as well as their entire electorate.  In truth, the only effective change in regime between the colonies under the United Kingdom and the new government of the United States was the abandonment of recognition of hereditary nobility.  Since all the hereditary nobility was several thousand miles across the Atlantic, the real change in that case was virtually nonexistent.

Now, with the Constitution of 1789 and the Bill of Rights of 1791, the First Estate (the clergy) and its influence were forever barred from government.  That was indeed a significant advance for humanity, though in practical terms, the clergy in most of Europe took very little actual hands-on role in government by this time, the exceptions being Spain and Italy (in France their main influence was as landlords).

So, the “new nation, conceived in liberty”, founded on the principle of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” and based on the foundation that “all men are created equal”, was actually ruled by a tiny minority of extremely wealthy trade merchants and slave-holding plantation owners (the two of which easily fit the parameters for inclusion in France’s Third Estate) who had little more than contempt for and often great fear of its toiling “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.

Read the essays in The Federalist Papers written by Alexander Hamilton and John Jay (as opposed to those written by James Madison), and you will see exactly what I mean.  The future Secretary of the Treasury had, in fact, spearheaded an attempt to make the nation a constitutional monarchy with Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Stuart pretender to the throne of the United Kingdom formally known as Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart, as its titular ruler.

In his aborted venture, Hamilton had the full support of the Continental Congress and of the most prominent man politically in the former colonies, the future first President of the  United States His Excellency George Washington.  To be sure, there were voices of a much more genuinely democratic nature such as Thomas Paine, who failed to see Washington’s true colors until his own imprisonment and near-execution during the Reign of Terror in France, but these were the rare exception rather than the rule.

(To be fair, George Washington did lean toward republican sympathies, but he was most certainly a man of his own class rather than of the people.)

In other words, the overwhelming 99% majority of persons inside its borders of the brand new United States of America were without franchise, with no Estate, and virtual outcastes, or untouchables if you will, in their own land, at the mercy of the 1% above them.

Along with many other people, I have often wondered about where the iconic division of society into 1% over 99%, much-repeated since the Occupy Wall Street movement was launched, came from.   Since it’s been nearly three decades since I graduated the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), not too much of what I studied in my sociology classes is bubbling up close to the surface.  It was only when I was reviewing articles on social class in America that I realized that nearly all sociologists commenting on the subject identify a class of people at the top comprised of approximately 1% of the population.

No matter how they divide up the rest of the population, and no two sociologists agree on the number of classes, what to name them, what characteristics make up the members of each level, all agree that there is a 1% group atop a pyramid of the other 99%.  What to call this elite clique none can agree on, however, some sociologist using the designation “the upper class”, others calling it “the super-rich”, some by the quasi-Marxist name “the capitalist class”.

These are the people Marx and Engels called the “bourgeoisie”, or sometimes more specifically the “haute-bourgeoisie” to distinguish them from their admirers and would-be imitators, the petite-bourgeoisie.  The word “bourgeoisie” had already acquired a meaning similar to the one with which the two founders of Marxism used it.  Originally, the word simply meant “town-dweller”.  Later, particularly after monarchs began to gather together assemblies of notables from around the country, its definition became more restricted, eventually confined to something resembling today’s “1%”.

For Marx and Engels, the term bourgeoisie referred almost exclusively to industrial capitalists, the owners of the means of production as private property.  Though they both occasionally referred to “finance capitalism” and “rentier capitalism”, for the two of them the primary struggle was against industrial capitalists, so the undifferentiated word bourgeoisie meant them.

“Private property”, by the way, does not refer to a person’s house (no matter how grandiose) or car or clothes or silverware or computer or books or anything of the kind.  All those objects are personal property.  As opposed to public property, private property is anything from which capital can be used to make a profit that is owned by one or more private individuals.  Now public property, its opposite, is anything collectively owned by the greater body of citizenry for the benefit of all its members, whether it be government buildings, parks, roadways, or public corporations indistinguishable from their private counterparts.

No socialist of any reputable and non-extreme variety has at any time recommended the abolition of personal property.

The narrow focus of Marx and Engels on industrial capitalism, i.e. that involving industrial manufacturing, obscured the role of the capitalist financial system in creating the conditions under which both industrial capitalism and rentier capitalism flourished.  Lenin dealt with it more extensively, but even though he correctly acknowledges that by his time finance capitalism had surpassed the former, he shared their mistake in making the latter its child rather than its parent.

Incidentally, Lenin also came up with the concept of imperialism as a latter-day stage of capitalism, and some less flexibly minded advocates of Leninism argue that imperialism did not exist before the capitalistic “Age of Imperialism”, which lasted 1870-1914.

First, let’s be clear about the three different capitalisms.

Industrial capitalism is the use of man-made goods to produce other man-made goods of higher value derived primarily from the labor put into their manufacture with that surplus value primarily used as profit to the bourgeois owner(s) of the private property.

Rentier capitalism, by the way, involves the bourgeoisie in question receiving income primarily from real property-based sources in rent, intellectual property rights, dividends, fees, and capital gains.  You know, the way Mitt Romney gets all his income.

Finance capitalism, the “mother” of all other capitalisms and of the bourgeoisie in the modern sense of the term, refers to individuals deriving their income from buying, selling, and/or investing in stocks, bonds, futures, other derivatives, currencies, and the loan of money at interest.  Insurance companies also fall under this heading.

Needless to say, a member of the bourgeoisie can benefit from any two or all three varieties of capitalism and most do so.

The roots of modern capitalism go back to what might be called among the most medieval of circumstances.  Except for the Inquisition, the Crusades were among the most barbaric, narrow-minded, and superstitious of actions carried out by the West.  On the other hand, they were instigated by the appeal in 1095 of the Roman emperor at Constantinople, Basileus Alexios I Sebastos, to Pope Urban II at the Lateran Palace for help against the Seljuk Turks who by now occupied much of Anatolia.

Similar to the appeal 1169 of Dermot MacMurrough to Richard de Clare (Strongbow) for help regaining his kingdom of Leinster from which he had been deposed by Rory O’Connor, the High King of Ireland.  Look how that turned out for the Irish.

Constantinople had been the primary capital, now sole capital, of the Imperium Romanum or Basilea Rhomain since the time of Diocletian.  Its emperor, bureaucracy, and population considered it and themselves Roman, every bit as much as their Western counterparts still considered themselves.  Even their primary enemies, the Seljuk Turks, thought of them and their territory as Roman, using the name Rhum.

The Crusades lasted 1095-1291, and during that time the powers-that-be needed to move huge amounts of men and material across vast spaces and several international borders, and therefore needed a system to arise since none then existed.  In addition, once territories were established in the Levant, pilgrims and tourists needed both protection and a way to shift money without it being vulnerable to theft.

Of the five military orders that arose to fight the Crusades, the Knights Templar were the largest and most diverse, with the widest holdings and the biggest coffers.  Therefore, it is not too surprising that their ingenious brothers developed the system of finance which serves as the foundation for modern banking.  They allowed others to deposit their wealth, issued letters of credit, and gave it back to them as needed, with, of course, fees for their services.  They even exploited loopholes in Church law and of the various nations in Europe to lend money at interest.

Not surprisingly, this last improvement in their services eventually brought about the Templars’ downfall, due to massive outstanding loans made to leaders and governments across Europe, in particular to Philip IV of France and to the See of Rome.  Its leadership was destroyed, its possessions seized, its wealth redistributed.

The Knights Hospitaller and other orders had been likewise dabbling in banking, but to a much lesser extent.  They quickly divested themselves of those businesses.

Besides Philip IV and Pope Boniface VIII (and the Knights Hospitaller), the primary beneficiaries of the Templars’ demise were the Italian maritime republics of Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Amalfi, Florence, Ancona, and Ragusa (in Dalmatia but influenced by Venice).  Independent, each had originated in the late 6th century as a ducatas (territory ruled by a dux) under the Roman Empire’s Exarchate of Italiae.  By the 9th century, all had successfully broken away.

All these republics took over the financial system abandoned by the Templars upon their demise.  They even enhanced some of its conveniences and methods of gaining profits, most especially inventing new legal fictions for charging credit.  Their coastal locations and easy access to exploit maritime trade helped make the republics the richest “countires” in Europe and launch the Italian Renaissance.

More than any of the others, the Republic of Venice benefitted from the Crusades, with its holdings and sources of revenue greatly enhanced.  With it in the unquestioned dominant role, Venice these coastal city-states in controlling nearly all the trade in the Mediterranean Sea and overland to the Far East.  For that reason, nations desiring to cash in on trade from the East or bypass that trade to go directly to the source began searching the globe.

Thus began the Age of Exploration.  A century and a half into this era, 250 men came together to share the financial risk of their attempt to bypass the similar stranglehold of the Dutch Republic on trade in the North Sea.  Their aim was trade with Russia.  Each of the 250 had a share of ownership proportional to their investment called a “stock”.

The company, chartered in 1553, was the Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands, and a couple of years later it became the Muscovy Company.  It is the first known joint-stock company.  Several more followed, and in 1600 the London government issued a charter for the English (later British) East India Company.

The Dutch Republic followed with its own East India Company in 1602.  Eventually so did Denmark (1616), Portugal (1628), France (1664), and Sweden (1731).  The Dutch East India Company’s innovation was the stock exchange where people could trade shares, speculate about the company’s fortunes, etc.

Joint stock companies served as the primary means for financing the colonization of the Americas.  The Virginia Company, Massachusetts Bay Company, and Hudson’s Bay Company for England, the New Netherlands Company, the West India Companies of the Dutch Republic, Denmark, Sweden, and France, the New Sweden Company, the Company of New France, France’s Mississippi Company, and Scotland’s Company of Trading to Africa and the Indies were all joint-stock capitalist companies for commerce and colonization of varying degrees of success.

Beyond question the most successful and profitable of them all, the British East India Company became the very epitome of the very worst features of capitalist imperialism and monopoly.  It became a virtual private state unto itself, eventually holding in its grasp the entire Empire of India, with the full force of the crown backing it up.

Its monopoly over the triangular commerce in the Atlantic, as far as the United Kingdom’s American colonies were concerned, helped lead to the American Revolution.  In particular, its monopoly over import-export trade and the London Parliament’s passage of the Tea Act on its behalf led to the First Boston Tea Party of 1773, Second Boston Tea Party of 1774, and Chestertown Tea Party of 1774.

With the victory of the American bourgeoisie, the aristocracy became extinct and the clergy irrelevant for the time being.  Only the Third Estate remained.  The new elite named its new capital New Rome, later changing it to what it is now.  It named many of the features of the city for one’s in the ancient Rome, designed its Mall after the Forum, and made the rotunda in its Capitol building a replica of the Temple of Vesta.  Congress first came to order on Christmas Day 1789, and the mail ran every Sunday until after the Civil War.

Gradually, however, the bourgeois elite realized they needed to pacify the proletarian majority and therefore began to enfranchise more of its members as well as give religion more free reign.  In particular regarding the latter, religion became one of the chief justifications for the continuation of slavery, which in turn became one of the chief reasons why the South, once the least religious regions on the continent with inhabitants indifferent at best, became the Bible Belt it is now.

In spite of the increase in the franchise (i.e. right to vote), the average citizen has little more say in government than the holder of a life insurance policy has over the companies in which he holds a share by virtue of that policy.  That and the myth (a la Horatio Alger) that America is a meritocracy where someone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, work hard, obey all the rules, and do well, serve to keep the 99% in place.

Should any attempt to protest that society is unfair, that too many resources are being wasted on profligate parasites pursuing personal pleasure and comfort and security regardless of the harm to the welfare of the general public, there is always the shame of being poor.  The shame of having to admit that one is not, in fact, merely a temporarily embarrassed rich person.  That you are merely one of the “wretched refuse” of America’s teeming shore, yearning to be free.

28 January 2012

Trailer for "Into the Current",

The story of the 1988 nonviolent uprising for democracy in Burma, and Min Ko Naing, president of the Universities Student Union of Burma, who spent 15 years in solitary confinement in prison before being released in 2004.  After helping organize the 88 Generation Students Group, he was arrested again in 2007 to spend another five years in prison.  He was released on 13 January 2012.

24 January 2012

Trade unions, socialist parties, and Labor in the USA

In the beginning was the proletariat.  And the proletariat was with God, and the proletariat was God.  The proletariat was in the beginning with God.  All things are made by the proletariat, and without the proletariat nothing gets made that is made.  In the Labor of the proletariat is wealth, and that wealth is the foundation of Capital.  And the wealth flows from Labor to Capital and Capital shares it not, except for a trickle downward.

Of course, there is no “God”, except in the sense in which Valentine Michael Smith put it: “I am God, you are God”.  Read the book if you want to grok that.

Karl Marx derived his designation for the working class from ancient Rome.  The proletarii held little or no property, and their only contribution to the state from the point-of-view of the wealthier elite in the senatores (or patricii) and equites classes came as producers of children for its armies. 

In one sense, most Americans were proletarii at the foundation of the United States of America, anyone who wasn’t white AND male AND 21 years of age AND free from bond or indenture AND an owner of sufficient property AND sufficiently wealthy AND a member of the correct religion could not even vote.  Women, free blacks, slaves, indentured servants, Indians, vendors, craftsmen, artisans, Catholics in some cases, Jews and Muslims in most cases, laborers, and small farmers all were among the disenfranchised.

Legally, the latter two restrictions (wealth, religion) were abolished almost immediately, or at least very soon after the Constitution was adopted in 1789 and the Bill of Rights in 1791. 

Restrictions on voting due to property qualifications extended well into the second quarter of the 19th century, and in some places until the War Between the States.

Indentured servants stopped arriving almost immediately after the Revolution, though many already in the new country had lifetime indentures. 

Slavery was abolished in the 13th Amendment of 1865 and the freedmen given, theoretically at least, equal rights to those of white men in the 14th Amendment of 1868 (on equality) and the 15th Amendment of 1870 (on voting), but then Jim Crow kicked in after the Great Compromise of 1877 that ended Reconstruction.  United States law allowed for more leeway for Jim Crow to reassert white supremacy than it might have because its immigration code at the time restricted naturalization to “white persons” and had since 1790.

The 14th Amendment, by the way, was the basis upon which Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field wrote the majority opinion in Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Company v. State of Pennsylvania (1888) that a corporation is a person with equal citizenship under the law.

Women gained the right to vote, and therefore citizenship, in the 19th Amendment of 1920, but not any sort of real equality in the workplace, pay, or legal standing.

American Indians became citizens of the invasive political entity which now ruled the land their ancestors inhabited for centuries, even millennia, only in 1924.  Which makes an observer wonder how long the Palestinians will have to wait before they get even the dubious equality that Indians here how have.

The racial provisions restricting who could immigrate to and be naturalized in the United States to “white persons” were only overturned in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.  National and regional quotas remain, however.

Officially, Jim Crow in the South and related discrimination elsewhere ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but in practical terms took decades longer to eradicate.  Some may dispute whether or not it actually has been.

Persons between the ages of 18 and 21 got the right to vote under the 26th Amendment but have, since the 1980’s, seen the treatment of their rights as adults diminish on a number of fronts, laws on purchase and consumption of alcohol, for example.  Their peers under the age of 18, by contrast, have experienced the application of a great number of punitive laws against them as adults in spite of the fact that science has clearly demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that they are incapable of reasoning like adults.

As long as we’re on the subject of voting, I wonder when the Supreme Court will rule that since corporations are persons with equal citizenship rights, in its hallowed opinion anyway, that they too have the right to vote.

Okay, so the ranks of the enfranchised have grown not only by population increase but by granting the vote to persons who didn’t have it before.  Something, I might add, with which Republicans around the nation are desperately attempting to interfere and discourage folks from using. 

America’s proletariat in the classic Marxist sense saw its own genesis at nearly the same time as the new government.  In the United States, the First Industrial Revolution began in 1793 when Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin.

More than four decades later in 1834, women at the Lowell Mill in Massachusetts struck for higher wages, but failed, even with widespread support within the community.   Two years later, however, when the mill attempted to raise the rents on their company housing, the women were successful when they struck once again.  It was the first major victory in the USA for Labor in its struggle against Capital.

Many around this time began to not only notice but remark upon the growing exploitation of and abuses upon employers, especially in manufacturing and mining.  “These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert to fleece the people,” said Representative Abraham Lincoln (Whig-Springfield) on the floor of the Illinois General Assembly in 1937, “and now that they have got into a quarrel with themselves, we are called upon to appropriate the people's money to settle the quarrel.”

Issues of workers’ welfare, bosses’ exploitation, and politicians’ corruption, however, soon began to take a backseat to the dispute largely between the North and the South, though also within each of those two sections, over slavery.  One of the loudest voices for the abolition of slavery after 1851 was the Democratic Review, published by the leader of the Social Reform Association.  In the mid-1850’s, the SRA shifted its voice to Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune.

The Social Reform Association had grown out of the Young America movement which itself branched out in 1845 from the League of the Just in Europe, a utopian Christian socialist group following the ideas of Gracchus Babeuf. 

Proving that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the movement in the United States was co-opted by Young Turks within the Democratic Party as a mere appendage of the party.  Whereas in Europe, the League of the Just was a force for reform and social justice, Young America in the hands of Stephen Douglas, Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore, James K. Polk, and John O’Sullivan embraced industrialism, commerce, expansionism, chauvinism, and Manifest Destiny.

Under George Henry Evans, with support from the Democratic Review under George Nicholas Sanders, the Young America movement became the Social Reform Association, with a focus more upon anti-corruption, social reform, and abolition of slavery.  In 1854, the SRA joined with other Free Soil Democrats and Conscience Whigs to form the abolitionist Republican Party.

Meanwhile in Europe a few years earlier, in 1847, the League of the Just had combined in London with the Committees of Correspondence under Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to form the Communist League.  By the time the Young America movement had morphed into the SRA, the Communist League had been destroyed by arrests across Europe.

During all this time, only a few organizations corresponding to what we now know as labor unions formed to protect the rights of workers, but these were locally confined and short-lived.  There were no organizations with a national reach until after the War Between the States, when the Knights of Labor formed in 1869, the same year the Union Pacific Railroad set the spike that joined two coasts.

As a national labor federation, the Knights of Labor suffered a few short-comings.  First was its nature.  Rather than being organized as more traditional labor unions were, the Knights of Labor were a secretive, quasi-Masonic organization with a secret membership, password, handshake, and a national leader called Grand Worshipful Master.  Despites these handicaps, within a couple of years the organization had 28,000 members, and 100,000 by the beginning of 1885. 

Following its successful strikes against Jay Gould’s Wabash Railroad in 1884 and his Union Pacific Railroad in 1885, membership had swollen to over 700,000.  The Thibodaux Massacre which aborted the Louisiana Sugar Strike in 1887, following its failure in a strike by 200,000 workers of Gould’s Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads in 1886, combined with the chaos after the Haymarket “riot” led to rapid decline for the Knights of Labor.

In the same period, Marx’s International Workers Association moved its headquarters to New York from Europe, expelled one of its American sections which became the Equal Rights Party, dissolved itself in 1876, and gave birth to the larva which metamorphosed into the Socialist Labor Party of America.  The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU) was organized in Indiana in 1881.  The Central Labor Union of New York, a firmly Marxist group that was the nation’s first integrated labor union and which gave America and Canada their Labor Day, was founded in 1882.  And Edward Bellamy published his best-selling Looking Backward: 2000-1887.

The Knights of Labor last saw major action and influence during Tennessee’s Coal Creek War in Anderson County and surrounding environs 1891-1892.  It held its last convention in 1932 and its last local dissolved in 1949.

Despite its short reign as America’s leading workers’ federation and its cumbersome method of organization, the Knights of Labor created and sustained the labor culture into which new associations stepped and thrived.

Foreseeing the impending dissolution of the then-major labor federation, labor activists from FOTLU across the country met in December 1886 to transform into the American Federation of Labor (AFL).  Under Samuel Gompers, the AFL organized itself, like its immediate predecessor, along more traditional labor union lines, specifically along individual crafts. 

Gompers, an anti-Lassallean activist of Marxist sympathy often mistakenly accused of being pro-boss, joined the Anti-Imperialist League in the wake of the hyper-jingoism of the last years of the 19th century and was, at least for a while, a member of the local Nationalist Club committed to advocacy of Bellamy-style socialism.

In the last year of America’s Gilded Age, 1893, two organizations appeared whose effects were destined to be more in the future than at the time of their foundation: Eugene Debs’ American Railway Union (ARU) and the Western Federation of Miners (WFM).  The ARU, which carried out the Great Pullman Strike of 1894, served as the first national platform for Eugene Debs.  The WFM helped found the American Labor Union federation in 1898.

The Great Pullman Strike is notable for the fact that U.S. President Grover Cleveland used the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, a law meant to curb the excesses of the Gilded Age’s robber barons, as an excuse to intervene against the strikers.  One of the chief factors that allowed him to do so without much protest from outside was that the country was in its first year of its worst economic depression ever.

To think that the years after the War were a period of uninterrupted growth and prosperity would be sadly mistaken.  In Europe, the years from 1873-1897 are known as the Long Depression.  America itself was only free of that condition during the years 1879-1893.  The period from 1893 to 1897 were the most severe economically of any America experienced until the Great Depression began in 1929.

One effect of the 1890’s depression was the great diminishing of the will to reform in the country.  This led to the final demise of the Populist Party which had been supported at one time by Bellamy’s Nationalist Clubs.  By 1900 the party was led by Thomas Watson of Georgia, one of the nation’s foremost and vocal advocates of cooperation between whites and blacks for the cause of reform.  The party’s dismal failure, especially in the South, in the country’s third year of recovery ended the original Populist Party. 

When Watson reorganized the Populist Party after 1900, he did so as one of the nation’s foremost segregationists.  It was a conversion mirrored in George Wallace’s 1962 campaign for governor of Alabama after running in 1958 as a New Deal Democrat and losing badly.

The demise of the American Railway Union at the hands of Cleveland’s administration inspired Eugene Debs to the steps which led in 1901 to the founding of the Socialist Party of America by the Social Democratic Party, former Bellamy Nationalists, Morris Hillquit’s wing of the Socialist Labor Party, and ex-Populists who didn’t want to follow Watson’s racist turn.

Legally, the latter two restrictions (wealth, religion) were abolished almost immediately, or at least very soon after the Constitution was adopted in 1789 and the Bill of Rights in 1791. 

American Indians became citizens of the invasive political entity which now ruled the land their ancestors inhabited for centuries, even millennia, only in 1924.  Which makes an observer wonder how long the Palestinians will have to wait before they get even the dubious equality that Indians here how have.

Life was rather bleak for Socialists, Communists, and Wobblies during the 1920’s.  It was mainly a time for reorganization and realignment. 

The Workers Party of America changed its name to Workers Communist Party (WCP) in 1925.  In 1928, supporters the USSR’s Leon Trotsky in the WCP were expelled just as they were from the Comintern and every party attached to it, organizing themselves under James Cannon as the Communist League of America (CLA).  Eventually the Trotskyites in American organized themselves as the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and internationally as the Fourth International in 1938.

The following year, allies of the USSR’s Nicolas Bukharin were expelled also, forming the Independent Labor League of America, which merged with the SPA in 1941.

Meanwhile, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which had added anti-communism to its list of anti-isms, held a march of 250,000 down the Mall of Washington in hoods and robes waving American flags and carrying crosses in 1925.  It only began to slide to decrepitude when its outwardly Puritanical leadership proved to be as weak and petty as any other.

The stock markets in the country crashed in 1929, bringing the Great Depression.

The suffering in the world from the Depression, which started elsewhere long before September 1929, was only exacerbated by the punitive Treaty of Versailles and by the response of political leaders of the world to the financial crisis—austerity.

That’s the same dumb-fuck response of the current leaders around the world who seem to have forgotten the lessons of those who came before.   Given how trapped they all are in their own neoliberal ideology, it’s not surprising.

The Great Depression proved to be a boon to the Left, insofar as it pointed recruits toward its ranks and built wider popular support.  All the major left groups worked together in united fronts, in projects such as unemployed councils to house and feed people.  Membership in the SPA, CPUSA, IWW, other parties, and traditional unions all grew dramatically.

The Bonus Army of World War I (Great War) veterans demanding the bonus they had been promised but never received gathered in Washington, D.C., in 1932.  With their families, they set up tents that spring and began to Occupy the Mall.  On 28 July, troops from the 3rd Cavalry charged the encampment and soldiers from the 12th Infantry cleared the camp of its 43,000 residents with bayonets and vomiting gas, with support from six tanks. 

The Army’s chief-of-staff Gen. Douglas MacArthur took personal command of the operation, with Maj. George S. Patton in command of the tanks.  Maj. Dwight D. Eisenhower was MacArthur’s aide-de-camp.  After the camp was cleared, the future Dugout Doug violated orders and attacked the large camp across the Anacostia River.  Done with his swaggering, Little Napoleon ordered his hapless victims’ shelters and belongings burned.

A little known fact about the Depression is that Socialists, Communists, and Wobblies, even Trotskyists and Lovestoneites, thrived in the South during the Depression years. 

The Harlan County War began in 1931 between miners and the various coal companies over attempts to cut wages and demonstrations by the workers being attacked.  The miners had at first attempted to organize under the UMW, but then discovered that the union had a policy against strikes at the time.  So they turned to the National Miners Union (NMU), a member of the CPUSA’s Trade Union Unity League (TUUL).

Sporadic strikes, some lasting months, and random violence, some of it organized, continued throughout the 1930’s in Harlan and nearby Bell Counties.

For the Socialists, in 1932 Myles Horton of the SPA established Highlander Folk School in Summerfield, Tennessee, midway between Tracy City and Monteagle, along with educator Don West and pastor James Dombrowski.  Dedicated in its early years mostly to union organizing, it also trained rural labor leaders and community activists, as well as the early generations of environmentalists. 

Later, Highlander served as a major training ground for the activist of the civil rights and desegregation movement.  For example, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was planned there.

Fifty miles to the east and two years earlier, the CPUSA established a beachhead in Chattanooga as a local section of its Trade Union Unity League.  A local party chapter, or “club”, soon followed.  The TUUL’s section was headquartered on Market Street, just where the I-24 freeway overpass now runs. 

The party’s first leader in Chattanooga was a previous resident of North Carolina, a black man named Mark Coad, who ran for justice of the peace the same year he arrived.  It was only in the next year that Coad and his comrades got their baptism by fire when the Scottsboro Boys case erupted on the national scene.  Chattanooga, now the party’s regional headquarters, served as the headquarters for their legal defense, which came primarily at the hands of the party’s International Legal Defense, established in 1925.

The liaison between the Chattanooga headquarters and the Central Committee in New York City was Hosea Hudson, a former Georgia sharecropper and Alabama steelworker.  Along with the defense of the wrongfully accused Scottsboro Boys, Hudson helped organize the Share Croppers Union (SCU), which functioned mostly in Alabama but was headquartered in Chattanooga.  In 1938, Hudson started the party’s Right to Vote Club.

The regional party’s first attempt to hold an open regional convention in Chattanooga in 1935 was met with white robes, Knights of the KKK clubs, and police truncheons.  Fleeing almost for their lives, the representatives from around the South converged on Highlander.  The next year, they bypassed Chattanooga entirely.

One of the first programs of new Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal became reality with the National Recovery Act in 1933.  Besides creating the National Recovery and Public Works Administrations, this piece of legislation guaranteed workers to organize their own unions for collective bargaining.

In 1937, the CPUSA was able to be quite open in the city, getting its Memorial Municipal Auditorium for its meetings and ceremonies.  No less a personage than CPUSA Chairman Earl Browder spoke at the regional convention that year, and the proceedings were written up in two of the local papers.

In 1934, four major strike actions took place that helped define relations between Labor and Capital for generations.  All were either led or assisted by one of the major leftist groups.

In Toledo, Ohio, workers assisted by organizers from the American Workers Party and the AFL struck the Electric Auto-Lite company from April through June.  One of its more notable features was the two-day “Battle of Toledo” between 6000 strikers and 1300 Ohio National Guardsmen.  The next year Local 12 of the United Auto Workers was established.

Elsewhere in 1934, longshoremen walked out in every port on the West Coast in May, and stayed out until September, when the employers, mostly belonging to the MMA, used vigilantes, goons, and state troops with machine gun-mounted trucks to put down the strike, which was about to become general.  The striking workers were aided by organizers from the IWW and the CPUSA.  These events led directly to the foundation of the Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Organizers from the CLA (the Trotskyite Communist League of America) helped bring about the Minneapolis General Strike, the main focus of which was the Teamsters Union, which broke out at nearly the same time at the Westcoast Longshore Strike.  Lasting for roughly the same amount of time, the strike in this case led to the complete organization of Minneapolis, which had been open shop, and solidified the CLA (and later SWP) as a force to be reckoned with.

The Great Textile Strike the same year began in Alabama, where United Textile Workers (UTW) locals struck at their cotton mills in mid-July.  But it didn’t become national until the day after Labor Day.  Spurred by UTW organizers and “flying squads” of workers, many of whom were also organizers for SPA and CPUSA, the strike spread quickly over the mills of the South, then up the Atlantic seaboard to New England.  Soon over 400,000 textile workers had walked off their jobs to the picket lines.

Martial law was declared in several parts of the affected areas.  The governors of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusets, and Maine called out their states’ National Guard.  All but Cross in Connecticut put their entire states under martial law.  In Georgia, Governor Eugene Talmadge ordered union and party organizers, strikers, and members of the “flying squads” rounded up and held in the former prison camp used for German POW’s at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia next to the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park for trial by military tribunal.  At the time, the fort was still active.

The ten unions which became the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) under John Lewis of the United Mine Workers first came together as a federation within a federation the year following the above pivotal strikes.  Their main difficulty organizing in the AFL was that the AFL focused on craft unions, to the extent that its leaders avoided putting any effort into doing so.  All ten were industrial unions.  CPUSA cadre were heavily involved in its founding.

One of the first new unions organized by the CIO was the United Auto Workers (UAW), which carried out its first strike at a General Motors plant in Atlanta, Georgia in 1936.  The following year after lengthy sit-down strikes at the GM’s home plant in Flint, Michigan, and the Chrysler plant in Detroit, the new union won recognition as the bargaining agent for the workers from both companies.  Organizers from CPUSA and SPA worked alongside non-party organizers from CIO at both sites.

Events in Europe strongly influenced the state of the Left in the United States.  With the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, volunteers from across the world made their way to the Iberian peninsula.  On one side were the Republicans defending the 2nd Spanish Republic against Francisco Franco’s Nationalists on the other side. 

Supporting the Republicans were the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Stalinists in Europe and America, Trotskyists everywhere, anarchists, socialists, labor unionists, and liberal democrats.  Supporting Franco’s Nationalists were Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Vatican City and the Catholic Church, the Knights of Columbus in America, and right-wing sympathizers world-wide, including the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in America.

Hundreds of Americans volunteered for the Republican cause, most serving in the Abraham Lincoln and George Washington Battalions of the XV International Brigade. 

On a side note, Frank Ryan’s Connolly Column of leftist Irish republicans and loyalists from Northeast Ulster fought as part of the Lincoln Battalion.  Eoin O’Duffy, an admirer of Hitler and Mussolini as well as founder of Ireland’s Blueshirts, led the Irish Brigade on the side of the Nationalists.

A large part of the reason for the failure of the Republican side was squabbling between the Stalinists and Trotskyists and anarchists.  But the main reason was withdrawal of Stalinist support for the Republican clause after the Treaty of Non-Aggression Germany and the Soviet Union was signed in August 1939. 

This treaty was quickly followed by the mutual invasion of Poland by its two signatories, and the annexation by the Soviet Union of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, eastern Finland, Bessarabia, Bukovina, and the Hertza region of Romania.  The treaty and subsequent annexations made life in America uncomfortable for members of both the CPUSA and the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP).  Inexplicably, Trotsky himself, James Cannon of the SWP, and the Fourth International continued to support the Soviet Union as a “degenerated workers state” in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

In the USA, one result was the resignation from the SWP of some 40% of its membership, most of them followers of Max Shachtman, one of the party’s leading theorists.  Also known as the leader of the group commonly referred to as the “New York Intellectuals”, Shachtman established the group which later became the Independent Socialist League (ISL).

Some of his comrades in the New York Intellectuals later went on to join with ideologues from the University of Chicago school to become the neoconservatives whose ideas the world has been unfortunate enough to bear witness to.  Shachtman eventually arrived at the same destination by a different route; his anti-Stalinism grew into anti-Communism so intense that it met that from the right-wing halfway.

Hitler’s invasion of the USSR in 1940 and Stalin’s subsequent about-face delayed the reckoning that was coming.  Communists alike joined with all other Americans, except for a fascist sympathizing minority, to aid the war effort against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan.  They were accepted at all levels of civilian government and of the military.  Agency chief William Donovan even targeted Communists for recruitment into the Overseas Secret Service (OSS), the predecessor of the CIA.

As for the unions in both the AFL and in the more Communist-influenced CIO, they all gave no-strike pledges to last the duration of the War.  The Trotskyist SWP, however, strenuously opposed America’s entry into the War and supported strikes during its time.

The alliance between the West and the Soviet Union began to unravel in spirit if remaining in fact as the War drew to a close.  OSS operatives in Indochina found themselves pulled out of Viet Nam when they recommended supporting the struggle of the Communist but pro-American Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Viet Minh.  The same happened to OSS operatives in China who supported Mao Zedong and his Communists.

A large part of the reason President Truman’s Secretary of War at the time, Henry Stimson, so strongly recommended that the U.S.A. drop Little Boy and Fat Man on human populations in Japan was fear of the Soviets.  He wanted to prove to Stalin that America had the will.  At the time of the war, the city of Nagasaki was the center of Christianity in Japan, which is why the two terms—Christian and Communist—have been synonymous ever since.

At the end of the War, Churchill’s Iron Curtain rose up between the Soviet-dominated areas of Europe and the rest of the continent.  The Iron Curtain was figurative as well as geographic, and had a large affect on the life of the CPUSA and on the labor movement as the Second Red Scare, which lasted from the end of the War until about 1955, began.

In 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, which penalized labor unions whose officers would not sign anti-Communist loyalty oaths.  The few Communists who had obtained positions of power and influence in the AFL and its unions were kicked out almost immediately.  Those in the CIO, in which they were much more numerous and influential, were removed after Walter Reuther came to the helm.  The CIO even expelled several of its constituent unions.

The House Un-American Activities Committee, first established in 1938 to investigate Nazi sympathizers, trained its sites on the CPUSA.  Congress passed the McCarran Internal Security Act in 1950, and Senator Joe McCarthy set up his committee the same year.  In the same year that saw the fall of McCarthy, 1954, the CPUSA was outlawed in a congressional act signed into law by President Eisenhower that remains part of the U.S. Code.

Francis Bellamy’s Pledge of Allegiance was altered, some might say corrupted, the same year by the insertion of the phrase “under God”.  The movement to support the inclusion was spearheaded by the Knights of Columbus with a specifically anti-Communist intent, in accordance with the ideology of the Catholic Church, staunch ally of the fascist Franco regime in Spain.  The idea was to contrast “Christian” America with an “atheistic”, and therefore Satanistic, Soviet Union.

The two major labor federations in the United States, the AFL and the CIO, reunited in 1955 under the leadership of George Meany, at the time president of the AFL.  One of Meany’s chief mentors was none other than Max Shachtman of the staunchly anti-Communist ISL.

Under Meany’s leadership, the AFL-CIO supported many of the anti-Soviet efforts of the U.S. government at home and abroad.  With the start of the war, its members were pro-war and anti-resistor, sometimes appearing as “hard hats” to help the police crush antiwar demonstrations during the Viet Nam War.  Yet they still supported the Democratic Party even after it swung around to opposition to the war.

Shachtman’s group, the International Socialist League, merged with the Socialist Party of America in 1957.  Eventually its former members, including rising star Michael Harrington, took over most of the reins of leadership in the SPA.

The next year the SPA’s Student League for Industrial Democracy (SLID) became the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which was to become one of the pivotal influences in the Movement that rose up in the 1960’s as the New Left.  Much to the chagrin of its SPA sponsors, the membership of the new SDS strongly supported the Communist regimes of the Iron Curtain and China and its clients.

Needless to say, SDS marched at the forefront of opposition to the Viet Nam War.  Its own break-up into three major blocks in 1968 foreshadowed that of the SPA four years later. 

Fidel Castro’s 1959 victory in Cuba and the U.S. government’s response both had a large affect on the Left and helped bring about its division into Old and New.  In 1961, the Maoists had broken away from the CPUSA as the Progressive Labor Party, and its youth section joined SDS en masse.

By the late 1960’s much of the original fervor of the union leaders had worn off, with too many becoming complacent or corrupt, and often scalawags who collaborated with bosses who owned the means of production.

The struggle of workers to regain control of their own unions began in West Virginia.  There, UMW members who wanted to better their working conditions and protect themselves from hazards such as pneumoconiosis couldn’t get help from their union.  John Lewis ceased being interested in miners’ welfare long before he retired, and his successor, William Boyle, was even more corrupt and collaborated with the coal companies.

Arnold Miller, a World War II vet who had worked in the mines 24 years and developed the above-mentioned disease, joined other similarly afflicted miners in the West Virginia Black Lung Association.  A 23-day wildcat strike in 1969 convinced the legislature that a law deaing with sufferers of the disease and its prevention in the future was needed.

The next step for the miners was the union national presidency.  Jock Yablonski, 59-years old of Clarksville, Pennsylvania, was chosen as the insurgents’ candidate.  Boyle won due to massive fraud, and Yablonski conceded.  Nevertheless, three Boyle partisans paid with $20,000 in union funds murdered Yablonski, his wife, and his 24-year old daughter in their house one night.

The Miners for Democracy soon formed and in 1972 successfully elected Arnold Miller as their national president.  Boyle was convicted of embezzlement of union funds, then of three counts of first-degree murder for which he was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.

By the late 1960’s, Max Shachtman’s group of by-now neoconservatives had taken complete control of the once formidable SPA.  Tensions led to the departure of much of the Old Guard into the Union of Democratic Socialism (UDS) led by David McReynolds.  The remaining Old Guard, following the lead of three-term former Milwaukee mayor Frank Ziedler, met as the Debs Caucus.

Matters in the SPA came to a head at the convention of 1972.  The Shachtmanites, known as the Unity Caucus, who had a supermajority voted for the party to become the Social Democrats USA (SDUSA).  SDUSA became one of the chief ideological allies of the Chicago school and of the neoconservative movement.

The former SPA’s Coalition Caucus under Harrington formed what eventually became the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).  John Sweeney, the chairman of the AFL-CIO under whose term prohibitions against Communists and socialists were dropped, was a DSA member, as was David Dinkins, Mayor of New York City 1990-1993.

The members of the UDS and of the Debs Caucus came together the next year, 1973, to re-establish the Socialist Party USA.

The low point of AFL-CIO membership came as Lane Kirkland took up the reins.  A staunch opponent of Richard Nixon, he was nevertheless close to Ronald Reagan, though he vocally opposed Regan’s actions in dissolving the air traffic controllers’ PATCO when it struck for better conditions in 1981.  His most singular contribution to the cause of free labor was his strong support for Poland’s Lech Walesa and Solidarity from the earliest days that workers in Gdansk rose up against their oppressors.

Solidarity was the beginning of the end for the Leninist variation of socialism that centered around its doctrines of democratic centralism and vanguardism.  The domino theory of the 1950’s and ‘60’s proved to be true only behind the Iron Curtain in 1989, as country after country in the Eastern Bloc saw its Moscow-dominated government fall.  The Soviet Union itself collapsed shortly after the failed coup d’etat attempt of 1991.

Union membership began to rise once again in the mid-1990’s, as did membership in the parties and organizations of the Left.  The IWW and the SPUSA both watched their ranks begin to rise.  So did the CPUSA, though by that time it had become reduced to a support organization for the mainstream Democratic Party. 

Other organizations have not fared so well.  The old Socialist Labor Party of America, last surviving remnant of the First International, closed its national office in 2008.  The SDUSA which had betrayed the socialist ideal in the name of socialism died in 2005.  On the other hand, the Students for a Democratic Society revived in 2006.

In the summer of 2009, the Iranian people, frustrated, tired of living in fear, angry at their treatment by the regime, and fed up with their low and sporadic pay, rose up and threatened the foundations of the Islamic Republic for more than six months.  Citizens in the Arab world followed them beginning at the end of 2010, spreading across North Africa into nearly all parts of West Asia.  Eventually the movement both jumped the Mediterranean and flanked it on both ends, giving rise to people’s movements in Europe.

In the summer of 2011, the movement came to Israel, where it flourished for over two months in the streets, then crossed the Atlantic to spark in the borough of Manhattan what is now the global Occupy movement. 

The Occupiers have risen up to protest the treatment of the 99% of us by the 1% financial oligarchy that is more powerful, more selfish, more greedy, and more heartless than any single government on the planet.  It is far more reaching and insidious than any national elite of any individual country.  Which side are you on?

Our day will come.

16 January 2012

Excerpt from the Historia Augusta (Hadrian)

Historia Augusta is the official biography of Imperator Publius Aelius Trajanus Hadrianus Augustus.

The following passage discusses a letter written from Hadrian to his friend Lucius Julius Ursus Servianus circa 134 CE.  It provides good insight into the religious world of Alexandria, which was to Rome as New York is to Washington.  Alexandria rather than Galilee was the birthplace of what later became Christianity.  

Combined with Marcion of Sinope's early version of what was later dubbed the Gospel of Luke and his collection of the recognized letters of Paul, it paints a picture of Christianity's true origins, as well as the actual practices of Judaism and Samaritanism.)

From Historia Augusta, Vol. III, pp. 399-406:

Saturninus was a Gaul by birth, one of a nation that is ever most restless and always desirous of creating either an emperor or an empire. To this man, above all the other generals, because it seemed certain that he was truly the greatest, Aurelian had given the command of the Eastern frontier, wisely charging him never to visit Egypt. For, as we see, this far-sighted man was well acquainted with the Gallic character and feared that if Saturninus visited this turbulent land he might be drawn by association with the inhabitants to a course toward which he was by nature inclined. 

For the Egyptians, as you know well enough, are puffed up, madmen, boastful, doers of injury, and, in fact, liars and without restraint, always craving something new, even in their popular songs, writers of verse, makers of epigrams, astrologers, soothsayers, quacksalvers. Among them, indeed, are Christians and Samaritans and those who are always ill-pleased by the present, though enjoying unbounded liberty. 

But, lest any Egyptian be angry with me, thinking that what I have set forth in writing is solely my own, I will cite one of Hadrian's letters, taken from the works of his freedman Phlegon, which fully reveals the character of the Egyptians.

From Hadrian Augustus to Servianus the consul, greeting. The land of Egypt, the praises of which you have been recounting to me, my dear Servianus, I have found to be wholly light-minded, unstable, and blown about by every breath of rumour. There those who worship Serapis are, in fact, Christians, and those who call themselves bishops of Christ are, in fact, devotees of Serapis. 

There is no chief of the Jewish synagogue, no Samaritan, no Christian presbyter, who is not an astrologer, a soothsayer, or an anointer. Even the Patriarch himself [refers to the Patriarch of Tiberias, head of the Jewish religion after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE], when he comes to Egypt, is forced by some to worship Serapis, by others to worship Christ. 

They are a folk most seditious, most deceitful, most given to injury; but their city is prosperous, rich, and fruitful, and in it no one is idle. Some are blowers of glass, others makers of paper, all are at least weavers of linen or seem to belong to one craft or another; the lame have their occupations, the eunuchs have theirs, the blind have theirs, and not even those whose hands are crippled are idle. 

Their only god is money, and this the Christians, the Jews, and, in fact, all nations adore. And would that this city had a better character, for indeed it is worthy by reason of its richness and by reason of its size to hold the chief place in the whole of Egypt. 

I granted it every favour, I restored to it all its ancient rights and bestowed on it new ones besides, so that the people gave thanks to me while I was present among them. Then, no sooner had I departed thence than they said many things against my son Verus, and what they said about Antinous I believe you have learned. I can only wish for them that they may live on their own chickens, which they breed in a fashion I am ashamed to describe. 

I am sending you over some cups, changing colour and variegated, presented to me by the priest of a temple and now dedicated particularly to you and my sister. I should like you to use them at banquets on feast-days. 

Take good care, however, that our dear Africanus does not use them too freely."

So then, holding such an opinion about the Egyptians Aurelian forbade Saturninus to visit Egypt, showing a wisdom that was truly divine. For as soon as the Egyptians saw that one of high rank had arrived among them, they straightway shouted aloud, "Saturninus Augustus, may the gods keep you!" 

But he, like a prudent man, as one cannot deny, fled at once from the city of Alexandria and returned to Palestine. There, however, when he had begun to reflect that it would not be safe for him to remain a commoner, he took down a purple robe from a statue of Venus and, with the soldiers standing about, he arrayed himself in a woman's mantle and then received their adoration. 

I have often heard my grandfather tell that he was present when Saturninus thus received adoration; "He began to weep," he would tell us, "and to say, 'The commonwealth has lost an indispensable man, if I may say so without undue pride. I have certainly restored the provinces of Gaul, I have recovered Africa, seize by the Moors, I have brought peace to the provinces of Spain. But what does it all avail? For all these services go for nothing when once I have claimed imperial honours.' "

Then, when those who had clothed him with the purple began to hearten him, some to defend his life and others his power, he delivered the following speech: "My friends, you do not know what an evil thing it is to rule. A sword suspended by a hair hangs over your head, on all sides there are spears, on all sides arrows. You fear your very guards, you dread your very attendants. Your food brings you no pleasure, your journeys no honour, your wars do not meet with approval, your arms call forth no enthusiasm. Remember, moreover, that they find fault with a man of any age as ruler. Is he an old man? He is deemed incapable. Is he young? They go on to say that he is mad as well. Why should I now tell you that Probus is beloved by all? In wishing me to be a rival of his, to whom I would gladly yield place and whose general I desire to be, you do but force me to an unavoidable death. One solace I have for my death: I shall not be able to die alone." 

This speech, according to Marcus Salvidienus, was really his own, and, in fact, he was not unlettered, for he had even studied under a rhetorician in Africa and attended the schools of the teachers at Rome.