National myth v. Historic Reality

Or socialism is the American way!

The usual image of the Early American citizen is a rugged individualist, not oppressed by society, but how realistic is that image?

Jerry Bowyer writes that:

It’s wrong to say that American was founded by capitalists. In fact, America was founded by socialists who had the humility to learn from their initial mistakes and embrace freedom.

One of the earliest and arguably most historically significant North American colonies was Plymouth Colony, founded in 1620 in what is now known as Plymouth, Massachusetts. As I’ve outlined in greater detail here before (Lessons From a Capitalist Thanksgiving), the original colony had written into its charter a system of communal property and labor.

Bowyer points out that the type of people who would go on to become known as the Levellers and the Diggers were the type of people whose world views would cause them move from England.  Of course, most of this thought comes from what is now called Christian Socialism, as were most of the other Socialist and Collectivist movements in the US.  This is now also being called Social Justice which is a society that  is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, understands and values human rights, and recognizes the dignity of every human being.

One can get into how radical the Independence Movement actually was at the time of the War for American Independence, but there was a strong economic incentive for independence in the hope of freedom from British Colonial masters.  The Boston Tea Party was not about taxes, but preferential treatment of the British East India Company’s monoploy.  William Hogeland is a very good source for information on how this hope was misdirected in that the oppressors came from both sides of the Atlantic and describes the founding period of the US as:

  • predatory lending in a real-estate bubble about to pop
  • feverish speculation by upscale investors in dubious debt instruments
  • foreclosure crises sending ordinary families into poverty and dependence
  • popular uprisings against government complicity in wealth concentration
  • militarized crackdowns on democratic approaches to finance

In short, “the founding war between some Americans and other Americans, a war over money, debt, and government’s role in public and private finance. A war we refuse to believe formed us, a war we’ve never stopped fighting.”  Hogeland’s work is very interesting in that it shows there were (at least) two streams in the American Independence movement, but there was hardly a totally unified force in WHY people wanted independence, but that is an aside.  Hogeland says that “The Constitutional Convention’s proposing a national government in 1787 came in direct opposition to progress made by the radical democrats who promoted ordinary, working Americans over the high-finance investing class.”  This is sort of a digression on the topic I am trying to make–I suggest that anyone interested in this line of thought read Hogeland’s works.  The ultimate point is that there was also a more “democratic” (read Socially Just) strain to the founding of The United States.  To quote Hogeland:

The Tea Party thus edits out an alternative view of government that prevailed among the ordinary 18th-century Americans who were all-important to achieving independence. Those Americans opposed elites epitomized by the Boston merchant class, which the Tea Party, perhaps appropriately enough, so strongly identifies with. The internal struggle for American equality was as important to the founding as the high-Whig resistance to England, but the Tea Party can’t deal with the populist leaders and militia rank-and-file who wrote the socially radical 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution, or the Shaysites of Massachusetts who marched on the state armory, or the so-called whiskey rebels who inspired federal occupation of western Pennsylvania. American Revolutionary patriots all, those democratic-finance leaders had ideas about government’s role in ensuring economic equality that prefigured programs of the 19th-century Populists and the 20th-century New Dealers, the very programs the Tea Party wants to dismantle. Tea Party history therefore has to expunge the welfare state’s roots in America’s founding.

Of course, we are putting in a lot of different concepts of what is Social Justice, Socialism, and Collectivism.  Most of the movements mentioned in Charles Nordhoff’s Communistic Societies of the United States came from Christian ideals.  The fact that one could come to the new world and try a collectivist society.  Robert Owen would try his experiments in a Socialist Society in New Lanark (Scotland) and New Harmony, Indiana and was one of many who would try such experiments in the United States.

We also have the labour movement which resulted in such events as the Molly Maguires, Mother Jones’s March, the Battle of Blair Mountain and many other actions which seem to be neglected.

The US is an asperational society in that there is also the myth of the American Dream–that hard work will result in proper rewards.  Many unrealistic ideas have been pushed which cause people to believe that wealth will “trickle down” and more money in the hands of the rich will result in job creation.  The problem is that these myths also run contrary to the class warfare which has existed in the United States since its beginning.  John Brennan, one of the founding leaders of the Pennsylvania Labor History Society in 1974 said that “Our history has been lost, stolen and strayed from the truth by many, and it is up to us to preserve it”.  The people who fought for decent working conditions, fair pay, paid vacations. and so on, are demonised.  The net result is the Walmarting of the US workforce.

My blogposts aren’t scholarly articles, but they are observations which I hope someone will use as a springboard for further investigation.  The right has hijacked US history and is using it to the detriment of that country.  Any “tyranny” which is arising comes not from government action, but more from ignorance and apathy allowing private enterprise to give a revised version of history which works against any popular movement that has existed in the US.
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