by Robin McMeeking
Socialism, Marxism, etc.
Two of the most influential people in the latter half of the 1800s were Karl Marx and Charles Darwin. Marx published his Communist Manifesto in 1848 and Das Kapital in 1867 with the aid of Friedrich Engels. However, these books influence was not immediate. His greatest influence came after his death in 1883. Charles Darwin published his On the Origin of Species in 1859. I mention him here not so much for his influence on science, but rather the influence his concept of evolution through the “survival of the fittest” has had in political, social, and economic thought.
Some people see history as a series of military struggles for supremacy, either regional, national, or multinational . Empires come and go and influence the distribution of languages, customs, and religions. Others may see history as a succession of technological developments in agriculture, architecture, metallurgy, etc. Karl Marx saw it as nothing more than a class struggle between “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed…”.
The Industrial Revolution brought a major change in peoples way of doing work. There have been many similar changes since then in numerous fields, but there was one aspect of the Industrial Revolution that was unique. And that was of particular interest to Marx. In the Industrial Revolution he saw what he believed to be an evolutionary change, the rise of the bourgeoisie; the class of modern capitalists, owners of the means of production and employers of wage labor, as distinct from the older hereditary aristocracy which owned land granted by the king which was rented to serfs. The bourgeoisie derive their income from investments. Their income is profit from the sale of goods produced by wage earners or “proletariat”. What today’s economists would call “profit margin” or “return on investment” Marx referred to as “surplus value”. He thought it was criminal exploitation. He does not seem to have given much thought to people outside of these two classes – managers, skilled craftsmen, doctors, educators, etc. and his views on agriculture are simplistic.
Marx, like Condorcet, was another thinker who believed that there was an inevitable progress toward a utopian society, although his vision was somewhat different. The following is from his manifesto.
We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.
The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.
Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production.
And he had a step-by-step road map for the achievement of this inevitable outcome:
These measures will, of course, be different in different countries.
Nevertheless, in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable.
1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.
When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organise itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.
That, in a nutshell, is Marx’s view of communism; inevitable and utopian. He also believed that it must be international in scope – “Workers of the World, Unite!” The word “international” is frequently found in the name of communist organizations as are “peoples” and “workers”. Communism is a form of socialism, an idea that has been around for a very long time. However, there are other conceptual forms of socialism as well, and in the highly magnified class separation of the late 1800s and early 1900s many of these were being discussed, proposed, and tried.
In a simplistic view of a socialist community, all property belongs to all of the community members. Each member of the community works to produce whatever is needed, and all goods produced by the community are shared more-or-less equally by all community members. The generally cited rule is “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Many primitive tribal societies functioned like this – some still do. The able-bodied men pretty much all do the same kind of work; same for the able-bodied women. One of the most notable characteristics of these societies is the almost complete lack of innovation. Life styles remain unchanged for centuries. Nevertheless, the people seem contented. Elders attain some status and are usually provided for by their offspring.
Such an arrangement obviously isn’t suited to a more complex society. In modern societies socialism generally requires that the government, as representative of the people, assume ownership of property, or at least effective control and management of productive property. In this arrangement there is no way to assure that each person is producing “according to their ability”. Instead, people are taxed according to their ability to pay. There is a great diversity of job types necessary to run a modern society requiring different educational backgrounds and with vastly different levels of responsibility. This leads to a stratification of pay scales not unlike those in a market based society, although not as generous. The amount of work done and goods produced is based on directives from the regulatory agencies rather than on market based initiatives.
“3. The persons transported & ye adventurers shall continue their joynt stock & partnership togeather, ye space of 7. years,(excepte some unexpected impedimente doe cause ye whole company to agree otherwise,) during which time, all profits &benifits that are gott by trade, traffick, trucking, working, fishing, or any other means of any person or persons, remaine still in ye comone stock untill ye division.”
Also see item 2 on pg. 136
“2. Consider wheraboute we are, not giveing almes, but furnishing a store house; no one shall be porer then another for 7. years, and if any be rich, none can be pore.”
William Bradford modified the structure after two miserable harvests and numerous complaints from the assembly. Instead of everyone working a community field and sharing the harvest, he subdivided the farming area and assigned individual fields to households.
“This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corne was planted then other waise would have bene by any means ye Govr or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave farr better contente. The women now wente willingly into ye feild, and tooke their litle-ons with them to set corne, which before would aledg weaknes, and inabilitie; whom to have compelled would have bene thought great tiranie and oppression.”
The colony went from starvation to surplus for sale and trade in one year.
Throughout Europe and the Unites States there was a great deal of interest in socialism in a multitude of forms. In 1869 the Social Democratic Party was formed in Germany and by 1912 was the strongest party by votes. It split into several parties in 1914 over conflicts about whether to go to war. One of these new parties was the Communist Party of Germany.
In France the Federation of the Socialist Workers of France was formed in 1879 and in 1882 some of the members (including Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law) left to form the French Workers Party. These parties merged in 1905 under a new name; French Section of the Workers’ International.
In the U.S. the Socialist Labor Party of America was formed in 1877 followed by the Social Democratic Party. These merged to form the Socialist Party of America. By 1910 they were strong enough in Wisconsin to elect a Congressman, a Mayor of Milwaukee, and other city officials. They did not attempt to follow the directives of Marx as outlined above. They focused on public sanitation and acquired the nickname of “Sewer Socialists”. Around this time Upton Sinclair was pumping out a long list of novels promoting socialism. His best known work, The Jungle, was published in 1906.
For the most part the programs advocated by socialists up to World War I were considered “gradualist” or “reformist” in nature. In Europe organized efforts at promoting Marxist socialism sputtered for a while, but in 1889 with the formation of the “Second International” the movement picked up steam. In Paris in 1900 an International Socialist Bureau was formed. It was composed of representatives from socialist parties from around the world. It was attended by Lenin.
In 1904 the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was formed in Chicago. Conflict within this organization led to a split in 1908 and a rival “Detroit” IWW was formed. By the start of the war in 1914 hard line Marxist organizations were widespread globally and well connected with each other.
Other Social/Economic Voices of the Time
A Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville toured America in 1832 – 33 and published a book in 1835, Democracy in America. This book was widely read, establishing a long lasting impression of life in America for Europeans. He made many favorable observations about America and was clearly impressed with the energy of the people and the lack of class consciousness so prevalent in Europe.
If two Englishmen chance to meet at the antipodes, where they are surrounded by strangers whose language and manners are almost unknown to them, they will first stare at each other with much curiosity and a kind of secret uneasiness; they will then turn away, or if one accosts the other, they will take care to converse only with a constrained and absent air, upon very unimportant subjects…
When it is birth alone, independent of wealth, that classes men in society, everyone knows exactly what his own position is in the social scale; he does not seek to rise, he does not fear to sink. In a community thus organized men of different castes communicate very little with one another; but if accident brings them together, they are ready to converse without hoping or fearing to lose their own position. Their intercourse is not on a footing of equality, but it is not constrained.
In America, where the privileges of birth never existed and where riches confer no peculiar rights on their possessors, men unacquainted with one another are very ready to frequent the same places and find neither peril nor advantage in the free interchange of their thoughts. If they meet by accident, they neither seek nor avoid intercourse; their manner is therefore natural, frank, and open; it is easy to see that they hardly expect or learn anything from one another, and that they do not care to display any more than to conceal their position in the world. If their demeanor is often cold and serious, it is never haughty or constrained; and if they do not converse, it is because they are not in a humor to talk, not because they think it their interest to be silent. In a foreign country two Americans are at once friends simply because they are Americans.
However, he also had some strongly worded concerns about what the future might hold.
Thus the men of democratic ages require to be free in order more readily to procure those physical enjoyments for which they are always longing. It sometimes happens, however, that the excessive taste they conceive for these same enjoyments abandons them to the first master who appears. The passion for worldly welfare then defeats itself, and, without perceiving it, throws the object of their desires to a greater distance.
Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.
But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.
And in his concluding chapter:
Thus by two separate paths I have reached the same conclusion. I have shown that the principle of equality suggests to men the notion of a sole, uniform, and strong government: I have now shown that the principle of equality imparts to them a taste for it. To governments of this kind the nations of our age are therefore tending. They are drawn thither by the natural inclination of mind and heart; and in order to reach that result, it is enough that they do not check themselves in their course. I am of opinion that, in the democratic ages which are opening upon us, individual independence and local liberties will ever be the produce of artificial contrivance; that centralization will be the natural form of government.
In England John Dalberg-Acton (1834 – 1902) became influential in the British Parliament while William Ewart Gladstone was Prime Minister through much of the late 1800s. It was said that “Gladstone influences all round him but Acton; it is Acton who influences Gladstone.” Some of Acton’s more famous quotations:
“The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern. The law of liberty tends to abolish the reign of race over race, of faith over faith, of class over class.”
“And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that. All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
“Socialism means slavery.”
The Progressive Era in America
The years from 1890 to 1920 are referred to as the Progressive Era in America. The presidents during this period were Benjamin Harrison (R) 1889-1893, Grover Cleveland (D) 1893-1897, William McKinley (R) 1897-1901, Theodore Roosevelt (R) 1901-1909, William Taft (R) 1909-1913, Woodrow Wilson (D) 1913-1921.
Much of the legislation in this period was in reaction to the excesses of the Industrial Revolution and revelations of political corruption at all levels. Monopolistic practices by large corporations (notably railroads and Standard Oil) were restricted by the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 and the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. Several states began to use primaries for the selection of candidates in order to blunt the power of party machines which had previously hand-picked candidates.
Two of the presidents in this period can clearly be labeled “progressive”, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt left the presidency voluntarily in 1909 after serving almost two full terms. He was Vice President when McKinley was assassinated after about 8 months in office. He tried to stage a comeback in 1913. He had promoted Taft as the 1908 Republican candidate, assured that he was a Progressive. However, Taft’s performance in office wasn’t to Roosevelt’s liking. Roosevelt tried to get the Republican nomination for himself in 1912, but couldn’t pull it off. He then formed a third party movement, the Bull Moose Party, was nominated by them but lost the election taking Taft down with him. The Bull Moose Party was later renamed the Progressive Party.
You may be wondering why progressives were at the top of the Democratic and Republican parties and a third “Progressive” party all running against each other. I’m glad you asked. We’ll take a short diversion to discuss political parties in America.
Although our founders disliked political parties, there is no democratic governmental design that discourages them. Our governmental arrangement favors a two party system. Third party movements have never lasted long here. If we had a parliamentary form of government as most other democracies do we would probably have several more major parties. Parties accumulate a variety of special interest groups with generally narrow and not necessarily compatible concerns. They are like parties within parties and they frequently vie for influence within, or outright control of the party agenda.
After the Civil War very few white southerners would call themselves Republicans and very few blacks anywhere were Democrats. This was true up until the passing of major civil rights legislation in the mid 1900s removed the racial agenda as the dominant concern of the south. So, for about 100 years, regional concerns dominated each party much more than ideology. Both parties were pretty diverse in terms of the political philosophies they represented.
Woodrow Wilson had an unusual background for a president. He had trained as a lawyer, but didn’t enjoy practicing law. He returned to school and got a PhD in history and political science, became a professor and eventually president of Princeton University. He was elected Governor of New Jersey and then made his try for the presidency. Most prior presidents had come from a military background, either long and distinguished, or shorter followed by being a career politician.
Wilson was one of the early writers on progressivism. If you are concerned that I have been overstating the influence of socialist thinking in America consider the following excerpt from Wilson’s essay “Socialism and Democracy” (1887):
Roundly described, socialism is a proposition that every community, by means of whatever forms of organization may be most effective for the purpose, see to it for itself that each one of its members finds the employment for which he is best suited and is rewarded according to his diligence and merit, all proper surroundings of moral influence being secured to him by the public authority. ‘State socialism’ is willing to act though state authority as it is at present organized. It proposes that all idea of a limitation of public authority by individual rights be put out of view, and that the State consider itself bound to stop only at what is unwise or futile in its universal superintendence alike of individual and of public interests. The thesis of the states socialist is, that no line can be drawn between private and public affairs which the State may not cross at will; that omnipotence of legislation is the first postulate of all just political theory.
Applied in a democratic state, such doctrine sounds radical, but not revolutionary. It is only an acceptance of the extremest logical conclusions deducible from democratic principles long ago received as respectable. For it is very clear that in fundamental theory socialism and democracy are almost if not quite one and the same. They both rest at bottom upon the absolute right of the community to determine its own destiny and that of its members. Men as communities are supreme over men as individuals. Limits of wisdom and convenience to the public control there may be: limits of principle there are, upon strict analysis, none.
It is of capital importance to note this substantial correspondence of fundamental conception as between socialism and democracy: a whole system of practical politics may be erected upon it without further foundation. The germinal conceptions of democracy are as free from all thought of a limitation of the public authority as are the corresponding conceptions of socialism; the individual rights which the democracy of our own century has actually observed, were suggested to it by a political Philosophy radically individualistic, but not necessarily democratic. Democracy is bound by no principle of its own nature to say itself nay as to the exercise of any power. Here, then, lies the point. The difference between democracy and socialism is not an essential difference, but only a practical difference — is a difference of organization and policy, not a difference of primary motive. Democracy has not undertaken the tasks which socialists clamour to have undertaken; but it refrains from them, not for lack of adequate principles or suitable motives, but for lack of adequate organization and suitable hardihood: because it cannot see its way clear to accomplishing them with credit. Moreover it may be said that democrats of to-day hold off from such undertakings because they are of to-day, and not of the days, which history very well remembers, when government had the temerity to try everything. The best thought of modern time having recognized a difference between social and political questions, democratic government, like all other governments, seeks to confine itself to those political concerns which have, in the eyes of the judicious, approved themselves appropriate to the sphere and capacity of public authority.
The socialist does not disregard the obvious lessons of history concerning overwrought government: at least he thinks he does not. He denies that he is urging the resumption of tasks which have been repeatedly shown to be impossible. He points to the incontrovertible fact that the economic and social conditions of life in our century are not only superficially but radically different from those of any other time whatever. Many affairs of life which were once easily to be handled by individuals have now become so entangled amongst the complexities of international trade relations, so confused by the multiplicity of news-voices, or so hoisted into the winds of speculation that only powerful combinations of wealth and influence can compass them. Corporations grow on every hand, and on every hand not only swallow and overawe individuals but also compete with governments. The contest is no longer between government and individuals; it is now between government and dangerous combinations and individuals. Here is a monstrously changed aspect of the social world. In face of such circumstances, must not government lay aside all timid scruple and boldly make itself an agency for social reform as well as for political control?
It was under Wilson that the most significant progressive constitutional changes were made. The Sixteenth Amendment was ratified in 1913 allowing an income tax to be levied without requiring apportionment to the states by population. The Seventeenth Amendment was also ratified in 1913 establishing direct election of senators instead of selection by state legislatures. These changes weakened states rights and strengthened executive power making the government more “democratic” rather than “republican”. The Interstate Commerce Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Reserve were all initiated under Wilson. This also acted to increase the power of the executive.
The Department of Labor was established as a cabinet level position in 1913. Wilson gained considerable support from labor by supporting the Clayton Antitrust Act which excluded farm and labor organizations from prosecution under the Sherman Antitrust act.
“The world is not looking for servants, there are plenty of these, but for masters, men who form their purposes and then carry them out, let the consequences be what they may.” Woodrow Wilson
Wilson and World War I
World War I began in Europe in 1914, pitting the “Central Powers” of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria against the “Allied Powers” of Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and others. Wilson immediately declared that the U.S. would remain neutral, and he kept us out of the war throughout his first term. During this time he allowed American manufacturers to produce war materials for England in violation the law. His reelection campaign slogan was “he kept us out of war”. However, anti-German sentiment was already fairly high due to the sinking of the British passenger ship RMS Lusitania by a German submarine in 1915. The Lusitania was carrying many American passengers, but it also had a cargo of war munitions.
Shortly after beginning his second term another incident led him to ask Congress to declare war on Germany. The interception of a coded diplomatic telegram from Germany to Mexico (the Zimmermann telegram) forced the issue. The telegram indicated that Germany was going to begin unrestricted submarine attacks against American shipping. It asked for Mexican assistance against the U.S. if it entered the war. Mexico was promised the recovery of Texas and other southwestern territory it lost in the Mexican-American War. On April 6, 1917 the U.S. formally declared war.
To mobilize public opinion in support of the war, Wilson created the Committee on Public Information headed by George Creel, a muckraking journalist. Creel launched a campaign to sell the war to the American people by sponsoring 150,000 lecturers, writers, artists, actors, and scholars to champion the cause. His “Four-Minute-Men,” meaning that they were prepared to make a four-minute speech anytime and anywhere a crowd gathered, made 755,190 speeches in theaters, lecture halls, churches, and social clubs and on street corners all over the nation. In the resulting patriotic fervor, opponents to the war were painted as slackers and even traitors. “Americanization” drives pressured immigrants to abandon their native cultures. Some states prohibited the use of foreign languages in public. New York State required voters to demonstrate literacy in English. Libraries publicly burned German books. Some communities banned playing the music of Bach and Beethoven, and schools dropped German courses from their curriculum. Sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage,” and German measles was renamed “liberty measles.” Some Americans with German names were beaten in the streets and even lynched. To avoid such violence, others anglicized their names.
Wilson sponsored the Espionage and Sedition Acts, prohibiting interference with the draft and outlawing criticism of the government, the armed forces, or the war effort. Violators were imprisoned or fined. Some 1,500 people were arrested for violating these laws, including Eugene V. Debs, leader of the Socialist Party. The Post Office was empowered to censor the mail, and over 400 periodicals were deprived of mailing privileges for greater or lesser periods of time. The Supreme Court upheld the Espionage and Sedition Acts as constitutional. Leaders and members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), known as “Wobblies,” were especially singled out for attack. In one incident, Justice Department agents raided IWW offices nationwide, arresting union leaders who were sentenced to jail terms of up to twenty-five years. The IWW never recovered from this persecution. Source
In October of 1917, in the midst of World War I, the Russian government was toppled by the Bolshevik Revolution. The Russians had been fighting on the side of the Allies, but after the revolution they immediately declared peace with Germany and withdrew from the war. Communists around the world were encouraged to oppose the war. The strong connection between the IWW and the Communists undoubtedly accounts for the above mentioned persecution of the IWW.
World War I was not restricted to Europe, and the U.S. had considerable involvement in the western hemisphere.
Between 1914 and 1918, the United States intervened in Latin America, particularly in Mexico, Haiti, Cuba, and Panama. The U.S. maintained troops in Nicaragua throughout the Wilson administration and used them to select the president of Nicaragua and then to force Nicaragua to pass the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty. American troops in Haiti, under the command of the federal government, forced the Haitian legislature to choose the candidate Wilson selected as Haitian president. American troops occupied Haiti between 1915 and 1934. Wilson ordered the military occupation of the Dominican Republic shortly after the resignation of its President Juan Isidro Jimenes Pereyra in 1916. The U.S. military worked in concert with wealthy Dominican landowners to suppress the gavilleros, a campesino guerrilla force fighting the occupation. The occupation lasted until 1924, and was notorious for its brutality against those in the resistance. Source
When the end of WW I seemed imminent Wilson made a speech to a joint session of Congress which laid out fourteen points that he believed were necessary for a lasting peace in Europe. When Germany surrendered he then traveled to Paris to participate in peace negotiations taking a large contingency of specialists on European history and affairs. He was there for six months, but had little success in promoting his ideas for resolving the peace. He pushed for the British concept of a League of Nations which was included in the Versailles peace treaty, but congress refused to ratify the treaty and the U.S. never joined the League which lasted until WW II. The Versailles treaty exacted heavy penalties on Germany and had a lot to do with setting the stage for World War II.