Populist Socialism Reconsidered


The Late Max Scherr, editor of the Berkeley Barb, holding court in the Mediterraneum coffee house in the '60s, used to maintain that there were roughly eight different kinds of Socialism in the American political experience. He maintained that even the John Birch Society held positions that were, unconsciously, Socialist. While Max was pontificating to the Capuchino brigade, the Black Panther Party was receiving the brunt of the F.B.I. Co-Intel-Pro operation attacks during the late sixties and early seventies. But the form of Socialism in America that historically received the most deadly treatment (during 1934-1936), and suffered the most persecution - even to the suppression of their literature, and subsequent history - was the movement that began as the Non-Partisan League (1915 to 1922) that developed into the Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota. This is ironic, because the league was not an armed movement. The Non-Partisan league, like Jazz, was a purely American accident. As Jazz was a melding of Cajun (Acadian, Scotch-Irish, and French) fiddle music with Afro- American field hollers and African thumb-harp music in the melting pot of Louisiana at the mouth of the Mississippi River, so the League was a product, in the upper Mississippi Valley, of the miscegenation of an indigenous American, Jeffersonian radicalism descended from the American Revolution, with the first wave of socialist ideas from Europe that penetrated North America, blowing into the Mid-west around the 1880s. In the prairie Socialism of the Non-Partisan League and the Farmer-Labor Party, traditional, western, Jacksonian concerns about the control of credit and money - the radical- Jeffersonian, and Lincoln Greenback, radicalism of the nineteenth century - merged with the "Class-Consciousness" found in the social doctrines of German Social-democrats, and English Fabian-Socialists, whose organizers crossed the Atlantic, and spread their teachings in America beginning in the 'eighties of the nineteenth century. This marriage produced a unique hybrid, known, academically, by the name, "Populist-Socialism." This was before "Socialism" had become a dirty word to the masses in America; it was Lenin and Stalin, and their co-workers, who accomplished that. The League, first organized in 1915 in North Dakota by several socialist organizers who had left the Socialist Party because it did not adequately address the needs of the farmers, organized quietly and almost unnoticed for several months. Formulating a Five-Point Platform, the League as a "non-party" party, vowed to support any candidate of any party who would support their platform and to work against any candidate who would deny or oppose their platform. The Platform, which called for state-owned grain elevators, a state bank, and state-owned hail and fire insurance companies (for the spring wheat) was clearly the reflection of the agrarian concerns of the farmers of North Dakota. It was also the most radical and revolutionary state platform that has ever been formulated, drafted, and effectively enacted into law in the course of all American history. From inauspicious beginnings in the mind of single individual, a failed flax farmer named A.C. Townley, "with an idea and a Ford," in the sub-zero tundra of North Dakota in the winter of 1915, the Non-Partisan league grew and organized and quickly became a force. A marvelous book, entitled Political Prairie-Fire, by Robert Morlan, published by the Minnesota Historical Society, is must reading for all organizers who would learn the secrets of the amazing growth of this movement. The black and white art film, NORTHERN LIGHTS, also takes you there.

What is Socialism?
The root of the word Socialism comes from the Latin SOCIUS, meaning 'friend' and 'neighbor,' and derives from the time before the Roman Republic (until roughly 75O B.C.) when the people, living in extended families, were a classless society of yeomen farmers who helped each other in time of need. Thus, primitive, grassroots socialism contains the spiritual principle of loving your neighbor as yourself, which is the essence of True religion. Authentic, local Socialism is something that individual people participate in; not wait for a Lenin or a Stalin to impose upon them. It is voluntary. Thus, it resembles the scene in the film WITNESS where the Amish farmers get together to raise a Barn in a single day. The principle at work here is called Mutual Aid. Authentic Socialism would entail a return to an egalitarian society, where the social, cultural, and institutional mechanisms that perpetuate inequality, oppression & chauvinism, have been eliminated from the systemic functioning of human institutions. Populist Socialism believes, intrinsically, both in private enterprize, and in land tenure vested in families. It was a movement whose roots grew out of American soil, having its base amongst farmers, who were passionately concerned with retaining their farms, and passing them on to their children. Authentic, Ideal Socialism, is not Bolshevism, Stalinism, Nazism, or Maoism - undeniably evil movements which called themselves "Socialist," but which actively practiced mass-murder on folks who wouldn't march lock-step with their programs. These movements contributed to the Negation of Freedom and Dignity, and murdered scores of millions of souls in the Twentieth century. Each of those evil forms of 'Socialism' were sponsored by the Masters of Capital, on both sides of "the pond." The owners of the cartel monopolies always continued to do plenty of business with the dictators who managed these evil slave plantations which were set up by the capitalists - both to exploit the industry and raw materials, human & mineral, of the nations in which these experimental "systems" were established, as cultures in so many Petrie dishes, and - ultimately, to discredit the Idea of Socialism, itself. It was an elegant solution, indeed. Today, the chief economic institutions that perpetuate the inequities of the class system are these same multi-national cartels: industrial, pharmaceutical, and substance: grain, oil, steel, gold, tin, & tungsten, et cetera - But especially the banking cartels, which have appropriated unto themselves the power to create Credit out of thin air. The Central banks in the West function as fronts for rich and powerful families who own the controlling stock - the "Class A" stock - of Prime banks. The Prime banks in England and America serve as the Capital pool for the World Bank, and the I.M.F. Since the control of Credit has been privatized, the U.S. Government perpetuates a System where a few families are allowed to pass on to their heirs Bank-Stock that collects tidy dividends from the international debt of every nation. To the Non-Partisan Leaguers, and the early Farmer-Laborites, the obvious first step towards achieving the "Cooperative Commonwealth," the concept popularized in Edward Bellamy's book Looking Backward, was to nationalize Credit, and create a Public Central Bank, open and accountable to the People. These folks envisioned a Treasury of Commonwealth so open to the People, that a Town Hall meeting could be held in the inner sanctum.

This same vision could possibly become the seed for a potential, non-violent, Gandhian, Town Hall reform movement in America, in the Present, with the twin aims of Monetary and Land Reform. During the First World War, League candidates, Robert LaFollette, Sr., And Charles A. Lindbergh, Sr., along with Eugene Debs, took a principled stand against American involvement in the war and braved rotten eggs and tomatoes, and sometimes bullets and imprisonment, as well as tarring and feathering.

This is the kind of fervor and courage that we need to be inspired with today, in the face of BushLeague fascism, and Neo-Con empire-building madness. The elder Lindbergh was considered the chief economic theoretician of the League and of the early Farmer-Labor Party, which, by 1932, had grown to become the largest radical-left third party ever to appear in American history, let alone the 20th century. It was fully 15% of the entire electorate, at the height of the movement, in the 1930s. In the election of 1916, the League captured control of the Republican Party in North Dakota, elected the legislature, and elected their candidate as governor in North Dakota. In a single session of the State Legislature, they enacted all five planks of the platform of "State Socialism," including the foundation of the state-owned Bank of North Dakota, which continues to this day. The New York Times wrote in 1918, in genuine trepidation of "Bolshevism on the Prairie." Today the times have changed. Many of the issues have changed, though some remain. The Private Banking industry still lends fictitious "Credit" to people, hypothecated on real estate as collateral. Agribusiness, international finance, and the grain cartels are certainly still around and have virtually eliminated the family farm and the small farmers, who were the basic interest group who organized the League and were fully half of the Farmer-Labor Party. Crucial lessons may yet be gleaned both from the amazing organizational acuity - and the subsequent pitfalls of this movement. Could a five-point platform today, as the basis for non-violent, revolutionary political change on a national and global level, address the pressing needs all the common people in North America - and indeed all the people of the World? Could such a Movement take state power in the United States today? That is the Question. The following five-point program could be a possible Agenda for a Non-Partisan league in the present: 1. The Government, of the People, for the People, and by the People, should issue sufficient non-interest bearing U.S. notes to purchase back the capital stock of the Federal Reserve Bank from its current private owners. In agreement with Article 1, Section 8, Clause 5, of the U.S. Constitution. Henceforth the Government of the People should control its own credit and cease issuing interest-bearing notes, bonds, and securities. Pension-fund, and Ma and Pa and holders of U.S. Savings bonds should be paid off in full, but no bank or trust company holding securities against the U.S. Government debt shall be paid more than $100,000, in full. Postal Savings Banks should be established to facilitate the transfer of the People's credit from the defunct Bond-system. 2. The American People should move for immediate legislation to cancel all international debt owed by any nation - including this nation - to First World banks; and call, every year, (until it comes) that this Year be the Year of Jubilee for the release of all nations from the bondage of debt to the international commercial banks. 3. We should also move to take decisive steps to dismantle the military budget & press towards immediate peace-time conversion of the industrial sector towards the pressing needs of our own decaying infrastructure and millions of homeless citizens, needy families and elderly. 4. The People must consider and address the issue of Land Reform, and move to liberate the millions of acres that were fraudulently given to the Railroad corporations in violation of the Homestead Act of 1862, as well as the additional Millions of acres that were swindled by the timber barons by fraud, - again,in violation of the Hometead Act of 1862 - which theft, is described in the book, Looters of the Public Domain, by S.D. Puter. These lands should be made available for homesteading to every American who wants a homestead. A just and reasonable portion is four acres per couple. Furthermore, we should endeavor to provide some restitution - in land, not money - for lands stolen from Native Americans. 5. The People must begin the painful process of learning how to live on the earth in a manner that does not destroy it. We must learn again the ancient rhythms of seedtime and harvest. We must strive to create a sustainable civilization upon the earth, in the World-After-Oil. This last point is both a turning inward, and a return to ancestral patterns that existed before the invention of the internal combustion engine and the automobile. It is a point that can only be done by each and every individual him or herself. It is, nevertheless, highly political. Could a thousand citizen-candidates and ten thousand workers from coast to coast organize and win the Congress and the Senate to put over a program like this? Will you put your own shoulder to the wheel? - Mark Walter Evans - Published in the North Coast Xpress, 1992 -
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