Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 31, 2006

Young America

Filed under: third parties — louisproyect @ 1:18 pm

Mark Lause’s Young America
Land, Labor and the Republican Community
by Louis Proyect

Book Review

Lause, Mark A.: Young America: Land, Labor and the Republican Community, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 2005 ISBN 0-252-07230-8 (paper), ISBN 0-252-02980-1 (cloth), 240 pages

(Swans – July 31, 2006) There is a tendency to look at American working people as part of the problem rather than as part of the solution. This was especially pronounced after the 2004 elections, when despairing liberals felt that “red state” voters chose George W. Bush against their own class interests. Oddly enough, their disgust with the American blue collar worker was reflected in Bertolt Brecht’s poem The Selection, with the substitution of the word “liberals” for “government”:

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts.
Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Against this understandable tendency to blame the people, labor and left historians in the U.S. have worked hard to correct the record. Following the example of Howard Zinn, the dean of this school, they uncover instances of working people acting on their own class interests and for the interests of humanity as a whole.

The latest addition to this very necessary literature is Mark Lause’s Young America: Land, Labor and Republican Community. This is a study of an obscure political party from the 1840s that was in the vanguard of the fight against the concentration of land ownership, slavery, and for a kind of utopian socialism that predated the more orthodox Marxism of later years. If it is obscure, it is no fault of the actors who deserve a more prominent place in the historical panorama. We have to thank Mark Lause for rescuing them from obscurity and demonstrating our kinship with them. As we struggle against the rich and powerful in the 21st century, we can draw inspiration from our forerunners in the struggle.

The “Young America” in Lause’s title refers to the newspaper of the National Reform Association (NRA), whose initials ironically are the same as the arch-reactionary National Rifle Association of today. Although, as one begins to familiarize oneself with the earlier NRA, little doubt will remain about how distinct they were from each other!

Unlike the political parties of today (with the exception of the Greens and smaller socialist groups), the NRA was made up of and led by ordinary working people and small businessmen. In the winter of 1843-44, three men in the printing trades came together to launch the new group.

Born in Great Britain, George Henry Evans was a veteran labor editor who had once published Free Enquirer, a paper strongly influenced by the Owenites in Great Britain. Robert Owen had pioneered communes in Great Britain and even inspired followers in New Harmony, Indiana to begin work to realize their ideals. Even Friedrich Engels understood Owen’s importance, despite his disagreement with the utopian underpinnings:

His advance in the direction of Communism was the turning-point in Owen’s life. As long as he was simply a philanthropist, he was rewarded with nothing but wealth, applause, honor, and glory. He was the most popular man in Europe. Not only men of his own class, but statesmen and princes listened to him approvingly. But when he came out with his Communist theories that was quite another thing. Three great obstacles seemed to him especially to block the path to social reform: private property, religion, the present form of marriage.

Evans sought out John Windt, a blacklisted union organizer, who he collaborated with for fifteen years, and Thomas Ainge Devyr, a veteran of the Chartist movement in Great Britain. Devyr was also an advocate for tenant farmers in the United States. One of the lessons of Lause’s study is that land hunger in the U.S. at this time was as pronounced as it was in Latin America. Despite the reputation that it has for providing ample and cheap land for immigrants, the U.S. was plagued by the sort of landlordism that kept people in poverty. The main goal of the NRA was to achieve a sweeping land reform that would establish the material basis for true democracy. It was the age-old Jeffersonian hope mixed with the yearnings of utopian socialism.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/lproy39.html


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