Agrarian Socialism In Oklahoma: The Early Twentieth Century

Oscar Ameringer an Oklahoma Socialist Leader

Agrarian Socialism In America: Marx, Jefferson, and Jesus in the Oklahoma Countryside, 1904-1920. By Jim Bissett (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.)

Most Americans are unaware of the fact that the rural state of Oklahoma supported the strongest socialist movement that any American State ever produced. This apparently anomalous development has been chronicled by a number of scholars over the past 40 years. The first modern study was Howard L. Meredith’s 1969 Ph.D. dissertation “A History of the Socialist Party in Oklahoma, ” which was soon followed by Garin Burbank’s When Farmers Voted Red and James R. Green’s Grassroots Socialism in 1976 and 1978 respectively.(1) While all three are excellent studies, a more recent book, Jim Bissett’s Agrarian Socialism in America: Marx, Jefferson, and Jesus in the Oklahoma Countryside, 1904-1920 (1999), covers the same ground most successfully to date through clear arguments and an energetic and sympathetic point of view. READ MORE

CHARLES DERBER

CAPITALISM: BIG SURPRISES IN RECENT POLLS 

  

By Charles Derber

According to the conventional wisdom, the US is a center-Right country. But a new poll by Pew casts doubt on that idea. It shows widespread skepticism about capitalism and hints that support for socialist alternatives is emerging as a majoritarian force in America’s new generation.

 
Carried out in late April and published May 4, 2010,  the Pew poll, arguably by the most respected polling company in the country, asked over 1500 randomly selected Americans to describe their reactions to terms such as “capitalism,” “socialism,” “progressive,” “libertarian” and “militia.” The most striking findings concern “capitalism” and “socialism.” We cannot be sure what people mean by these terms, so the results have to be interpreted cautiously and in the context of more specific attitudes on concrete issues, as discussed later.

Pew summarizes the results in its poll title: “Socialism not so negative; capitalism not so positive.” This turns out to be an understatement of the drama in some of the underlying data.
 
Yes, “capitalism” is still viewed positively by a majority of Americans. But it is just by a bare majority. Only 52% of all Americans react positively. Thirty-seven percent say they have a negative reaction and the rest aren’t sure.
 
A year ago, a Rasmussen poll found similar reactions. Then, only 53% of Americans described capitalism as “superior” to socialism.

Meanwhile, 29% in the Pew poll describe “socialism” as positive. This positive percent soars much higher when you look at key sub-groups, as discussed shortly. A 2010 Gallup poll found 37% of all Americans preferring socialism as “superior” to capitalism.

Keep in mind these findings reflect an overview of the public mind when Right wing views seem at a high point – with the Tea Party often cast as a barometer of American public opinion. The polls in this era do not suggest a socialist country, but not a capitalist-loving one either. This is not a “Center-Right” America but a populace where almost 50% are deeply ambivalent or clearly opposed to capitalism. Republicans and the Tea Party would likely call that a Communist country.
 
The story gets more interesting when you look at two vital sub-groups. One is young people, the “millennial generation” currently between 18 and 30. In the Pew poll, just 43% of Americans under 30 describe “capitalism” as positive. Even more striking, the same percentage, 43%, describes “socialism” as positive. In other words, the new generation is equally divided between capitalism and socialism.
 
The Pew, Gallup and Rasmussen polls come to the same conclusion. Young people cannot be characterized as a capitalist generation. They are half capitalist and half socialist. Since the socialist leaning keeps rising among the young, it suggests—depending on how you interpret “socialism”—that we are moving toward an America that is either Center-Left or actually majoritarian socialist.

Turn now to Republicans and Democrats. Sixty-two percent of Republicans in the Pew poll view capitalism as positive, although 81 % view “free markets” as positive, suggesting a sensible distinction in their mind between capitalism and free markets. Even Republicans prefer small to big business and are divided about big business, which many correctly see as a monopolistic force of capitalism undermining free markets.
 
The more interesting story, though, is about Democrats. We hear endlessly about Blue Dog Democrats. But the Pew poll shows a surprisingly progressive Democratic base. Democrats are almost equally split in their appraisal of capitalism and socialism. Forty-seven percent see capitalism as positive but 53% do not. And 44% of Democrats define socialism as positive, linking their negativity about capitalism to a positive affirmation of socialism.
 
Moreover, many other subgroups react negatively to capitalism. Less than 50% of women, low-income groups and less-educated groups describe capitalism as positive.
 
So much for the view that Obama does not have a strong progressive base to mobilize. In fact, “progressive,’ according to the Pew poll, is one of the most positive terms in the American political lexicon, with a substantial majority of almost all sub-groups defining it as positive.
 
You may conclude that this all add ups to little, since we can’t be clear about how people are defining “capitalism” and “socialism.” But in my own research, summarized in recent books such as The New Feminized Majority and Morality Wars, attitudes registered in polls toward concrete issues over the last thirty years support the interpretation of the Pew data, at minimum, as evidence of a Center-Left country.

On nearly every major issue, from support minimum wage and unions, preference for diplomacy over force, deep concern for the environment, belief that big business is corrupting democracy, and support for many major social programs including Social Security and Medicare, the progressive position has been strong and relatively stable. If “socialism” means support for these issues, the interpretation of the Pew poll is a Center-Left country.
 
If socialism means a search for a genuine systemic alternative, then America, particularly its youth, is emerging as a majoritarian social democracy, or in a majoritarian search for a more cooperativist, green, and more peaceful and socially just order.
 
Either interpretation is hopeful. It should give progressives assurance that even in the “Age of the Tea Party,” despite great dangers and growing concentrated corporate power and wealth, there is a strong base for progressive politics. We have to mobilize the majority population to recognize its own possibilities and turn up the heat on the Obama Administration and a demoralized Democratic Party. If we fail, the Right will take up the slack and impose its monopoly capitalist will on a reluctant populace.

Charles Derber, professor of sociology at Boston College and author of Corporation Nation and Greed to Green. He is on the Majority Agenda Project’s coordinating committee (http://MajorityAgendaProject.org, info@majorityagendaproject.org).

This article originally appeared at CommonDreams.org

EUGENE V. DEBS

Eugene Debs & Emil Seidel campaign medal, 1912.

LETTER ON IMMIGRATION, 1910

by Eugene V. Debs


My Dear Brewer:

Have just read the majority report of the Committee on Immigration. It is utterly unsocialistic, reactionary and in truth outrageous, and I hope you will oppose with all your power. The plea that certain races are to be excluded because of tactical expediency would be entirely consistent in a bourgeois convention of self-seekers, but should have no place in a proletariat gathering under the auspices of an international movement that is calling on the oppressed and exploited workers of all the world to unite for their emancipation. . . .

Away with the “tactics” which require the exclusion of the oppressed and suffering slaves who seek these shores with the hope of bettering their wretched condition and are driven back under the cruel lash of expediency by those who call themselves Socialists in the name of a movement whose proud boast it is that it stands uncompromisingly for the oppressed and down-trodden of all the earth. These poor slaves have just as good a right to enter here as even the authors of this report who now seek to exclude them. The only difference is that the latter had the advantage of a little education and had not been so cruelly ground and oppressed, but in point of principle there is no difference, the motive of all being precisely the same, and if the convention which meets in the name of Socialism should discriminate at all it should be in favor of the miserable races who have borne the heaviest burdens and are most nearly crushed to the earth.

Upon this vital proposition I would take my stand against the world and no specious argument of subtle and sophistical defenders of the civic federation unionism, who do not hesitate to sacrifice principle for numbers and jeopardise ultimate success for immediate gain, could move me to turn my back upon the oppressed, brutalized and despairing victims of the old world, who are lured to these shores by some faint glimmer of hope that here their crushing burdens may be lightened, and some star of promise rise in their darkened skies.

The alleged advantages that would come to the Socialist movement because of such heartless exclusion would all be swept away a thousand times by the sacrifice of a cardinal principle of the international socialist movement, for well might the good faith of such a movement be questioned by intelligent workers if it placed itself upon record as barring its doors against the very races most in need of relief, and extinguishing their hope, and leaving them in dark despair at the very time their ears were first attuned to the international call and their hearts were beginning to throb responsive to the solidarity of the oppressed of all lands and all climes beneath the skies.

In this attitude there is nothing of maudlin sentimentality, but simply a rigid adherence to the fundamental principles of the International proletarian movement. If Socialism, international, revolutionary Socialism, does not stand staunchly, unflinchingly, and uncompromisingly for the working class and for the exploited and oppressed masses of all lands, then it stands for none and its claim is a false pretense and its profession a delusion and a snare.

Let those desert us who will because we refuse to shut the international door in the faces of their own brethren; we will be none the weaker but all the stronger for their going, for they evidently have no clear conception of the international solidarity, are wholly lacking in the revolutionary spirit, and have no proper place in the Socialist movement while they entertain such aristocratic notions of their own assumed superiority.Let us stand squarely on our revolutionary, working class principles and make our fight openly and uncompromisingly against all our enemies, adopting no cowardly tactics and holding out no false hopes, and our movement will then inspire the faith, arouse the spirit, and develop the fibre that will prevail against the world.

Yours without compromise,

Eugene V. Debs.

This piece was originally published in the International Socialist Review , Vol. XI, No. 1. July 1910 and is now available at the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive.