Saturday, May 02, 2009

Put Down The Zinn Book, Step Away From Class-Warfare Interpretations of History

The proposition that capitalist profits are the fruits of the exploitation of labor (which follows from inequality) is a crucial myth which enabled the socialists to organize the labor movement, and, thereby recruit a rank and file of soldiers for the socialist cause. Yet under free enterprise the United States was the highest wage country in the world prior to unionization, contrary to the impression given by socialist history. (Source)

I am posting this here because when I post elsewhere on the net it seems to “disappear.” Decent, apparently, is not tolerated in Face Book, beauty pageants, or college campuses. The future of egalitarianism: no dissent!

It is interesting to note that Harrison George (Trade Union Secretariat) was a prominent leader in the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) officially announced his Communist ties in 1927 even though they had been known for some time. He served time as the American rep to the Profintern
in Moscow, by 1929 he was in China contributing to an ideology that killed 44-million people – children included (The Secret World of American Communism [Yale Univ. Press, 1995], 49-50).

A book I recommend to any who want an honest attempt at history and a cataloging of “Leftist” movements in America, I would go no further than a book by a life-long Democrat. In this book Ellis recommends a few books in his footnotes for the historian that wants to extend his or her knowledge past self-admitted Marxist, Howard Zinn, which I will post after the Publishers Weekly review and Kansas Univ. review.

Publishers Weekly (Amazon):

In his second paragraph, Ellis quickly points out that he is a lifelong Democrat, a "card-carrying member" of the ACLU, an environmentalist, a supporter of women's rights and a federalist. If it seems rather defensive, that is, in some way, the point of his book. Here, Ellis (American Political Cultures) offers a provocative critique of left-wing movements from 19th-century utopians to abolitionists to the old left of the inter-war era, to the New Left of the Vietnam era and, finally, to contemporary radical feminists like Catharine MacKinnon and certain environmental activists. Through an examination of speeches, books and articles, Ellis tries to document how varied ideologues abandoned their egalitarian principles in favor of rigid political correctness, sometimes slipping into violence and elitism. At root, Ellis sees a tendency to romanticize "the People"?"those powerful, natural persons whose heroism needs no drug of fame or applause to enable them to continue: those humble, mighty parts of the mass," to quote American Communist Michael Gold? while, to quote Gold again, denigrating "the simple souls who save their money, plod to offices, and plan college careers for their children." This is a largely academic study that attempts to lump in Walt Whitman and Tom Hayden with various extremists. The problem is Ellis's arguments often tend to be as reductionist and simplistic as the radical rhetoric he criticizes.

University of Kansas Press (Link):

Why do people who identify themselves as liberal or egalitarian sometimes embrace intolerance or even preach violence? Illiberalism has come to be expected of the right in this country; its occurrence on the left is more paradoxical but no less real. Although equality lies at the heart of the liberal tradition, the earnest pursuit of egalitarian goals has often come at the expense of other liberal ideals.

In this provocative book, Richard J. Ellis examines the illiberal tendencies that have characterized egalitarian movements throughout American history, from the radical abolitionists of the 1830s to the New Left activists of the 1960s. He also takes on contemporary radical feminists like Catherine MacKinnon and radical environmental groups like Earth First! to show that, even today, many of the American left's sacred cows have cloven hooves.

Ellis identifies the organizational and ideological dilemmas that caused Students for a Democratic Society to transform itself from a democratic to an elitist organization, or that allow radicals to justify illegal acts as long as they are free of self-interest. He explains how orthodoxy arises within a group from the need to maintain distance from a society it views as hopelessly corrupt, and how individuals committed to egalitarian causes are particularly susceptible to illiberalism--even poets like Walt Whitman, who celebrated the common people but often expressed contempt for their mundane lives. Political correctness, idealizing the oppressed, and an affinity for authoritarian and charismatic leaders are all parts of what Ellis calls "the dark side of the left."

Building on the groundwork laid by Richard Hofstadter in his pioneering book, The Age of Reform, Ellis exposes the shortcomings of today's left and provides a badly needed historical perspective on the contemporary debate over "political correctness." The Dark Side of the Left is a gutsy book that is essential reading for anyone who occasionally feels dark forebodings about seemingly noble causes.

Good references/books to study the destructive influence of socialism on America’s ideals. From The Dark Side of the Left: Illiberal Egalitarianism in America:

Among the more obvious groups that I have left out are the Socialist party and the Industrial Workers of the World. Particularly relevant are Daniel Bell, Marxian Socialism in the United States (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967), and Aileen Kraditor, The Radical Persuasion, 1890-1917: Aspects of the Intellectual History and the Historiography of Three American Radical Organizations (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981)…. [page 291, footnote #24]

[also] Asked in 1935 to draw up a list of the twenty-five most influential books published in the last half century, both Charles Beard and John Dewey ranked Looking Backward second only to Marx's Das Kapital. On Looking Backward's titanic influence on "the age of reform," see Elizabeth Sadler, "One Book's Influence: Edward Bellamy's 'Looking Backward,"' New England Quarterly 17 (December 1944), 530-55. Bellamy's influence on the Populists specifically is documented in Christine McHugh, "Edward Bellamy and the Populists: The Agrarian Response to Utopia, 1888-1898, (Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, 1977). Bellamy’s influence on the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the turn-of-the-century labor movement is accented in Franklin Rosemont, "Bellamy's Radicalism Reclaimed," in Daphne Patai, ed., Looking Backward, 1988-1888: Essays on Edward Bellamy (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988), 147-209. On Bellamy's influence on utopian literature and utopian communities in the 189os, see Roemer, Obsolete Neces­sity; and Robert S. Fogarty, All Things New: American Communes and Utopian Move­ments, 1960-1914 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), especially 15, 134-35, 189. On the Nationalist Movement that was spawned by Bellamy's novel, see Arthur Lipow, Authoritarian Socialism in America: Edward Bellamy and the Nation­alist Movement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982); and Edward K. Spann, Brotherly Tomorrows: Movements for a Cooperative Society in America, 1820­-1920 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), especially chapter 12. [page 300, footnote # 7]

Socialism has done nothing but co-opted caused not for the sake of the “worker,” but merely to further the ultimate goals of socialism.

History 101:

THE CONDESCENSION THAT socialists displayed toward movements for women's suffrage and racial equality extended to the labor movement as well. Indeed, socialists imagined labor unions as their political playthings. When union members resisted their advances, socialists started their own unions. But with so many chiefs and so few Indians, socialist labor unions could not credibly challenge the dominance of traditional labor unions.

In 1905, members of both Socialist parties came together to form the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), reviving the dual-unionism policy of the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance. By then, Socialist Party leaders had become as frustrated with labor unions as SLP strongman Daniel De Leon. "The working class and the employing class have nothing in common," the IWW's founding document proclaimed. From that premise, the IWW condemned existing unions as collaborators for reaching agreements with employers. “The trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.”

Socialists saw workers as a means to an end. Workers saw socialists as arrogant, paternalistic, and cut loose from reality by being fused to theory. Non-worker socialists haughtily spoke for non-socialist workers. Workers didn't know what they wanted. Socialists did. At least that is how socialists saw things. "The Socialist party is the political expression of the economic interests of the workers," the 1912 platform claimed. "Its defeats have been their defeats and its victories their victories.”

Just as socialists called on blacks and women to subordinate their interests to socialist goals, they called on laborers to subordinate worker goals to socialist goals. But textile workers, miners, and cigar makers had individual interests, a concept that socialists never wrapped their minds around. Socialists, in fact, looked upon workers as an imaginary, dehumanized mass of uniformity, as mere cogs that would fulfill the Marxist prophecy.

"What intelligent workingman can hold out against the irresistible claim the Socialist movement has upon him?" Eugene Debs asked. "What reason has he to give? What excuse can he offer?" Debs answered himself emphatically: "None! Not one!" Unlike De Leon and other socialist leaders, Debs came from working-class origins and took his lumps organizing laborers. But workers found even his admonitions tiresome. Debs contended "that no workingman can clearly understand what Socialism means without becoming and remaining a Socialist. It is simply impossible for him to be anything else and the only reason that all workingmen are not Socialists is that they do not know what it means." s9 In other words, workers whose political beliefs differed from Eugene Debs's were, according to Eugene Debs, either ignorant or not true workers.

The IWW's insistence on society-transforming demands rather than workplace-transforming demands immediately crashed into reality.

First, why would workingmen wish to organize under an outfit that rejected raises and improvements in working conditions as legitimate objects of a labor union? When the IWW lived up to its principles by expelling locals that entered into agreements with employers, critics found them impractical. When they won concessions, critics found them hypocrites.

Second, why would an employer wish to negotiate with a union that stated openly it had no obligation to live up to its agreements with employers? "The question of 'right' and 'wrong' does not concern us," admitted IWW general secretary Vincent St. John. "No terms made with an employer are final. All peace, so long as the wage system lasts, is but an armed truce. " The organization itself held: "The contract between an employer and a workman is no more binding than the title deed to a negro slave is just. "

Skilled professions generally stuck with their unions. The Western Federation of Miners defected to the IWW, but, for the most part, the Wobblies, the nickname for IWW members, were stuck with attempting to organize unskilled laborers. This may have added to their allure among socialists.

The socialist fetishization of the worker manifested itself in an exalted Status for the actual workers within the movement's ranks. "Jimmy Higgins," the mythical union laborer who in his off hours toiled for the Party by hawking literature on street corners, manning socialist rallies, and faithfully attending party meetings, became the most sought-after socialist. The IWW out—Jimmy Higgensed the other labor organizations by seeking out the bluest of blue-collar workers. Thus the Wobbly gained reputation as a free-living, street-fighting man. He put into practice the thoughts of the socialist intellectual, and for that, the socialist intellectual was grateful. But the type of action the Wobblies engaged in divided socialists yet again.

The IWW differed from ordinary unions in that it cared little for employer concessions to employees. It also differed in that it was a "syndicalist" organization, meaning it favored direct action—sabotage, strikes, violence—over political action. The ultimate purpose of direct action was the seizure of industry for the workers.

Daniel De Leon, eager for the IWW to become a recruiting ground for his Socialist Labor Party, opposed the group's focus on action to the exclusion of politics. Just as the rule-or-ruin mentality spurred the establishment of the IWW, the rule-or-ruin mentality inspired De Leon's defection from the IWW to form an alternative IWW. Just as there had been two SLPs in 1899 when De Leon's faction lost power, in 1908 there were two IWWs—the main IWW, and De Leon's Detroit-based IWW. A group of splitters became the victim of splitters.

The IWW—De Leon's fake one—led a nominal existence. The IWW the real one—expanded its influence. The Wobblies gained clout through their role in strikes at McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, in 1909; Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912; and Paterson, New Jersey, in 1913. But the group's strength lay in the western half of the United States due to the Western Federation of Miners' brief affiliation. The IWW's reach, as its name suggested, extended into Canada, Australia, and beyond. But its roster, if it ever entered into the six digits, flirted with that number briefly. Its importance as a historical subject resides in its violent radicalism, not in its influence as a labor union, which was small and fleeting.

The IWW strikes often involved a great deal of violence, much of it instigated by the Wobblies. The McKees Rocks strike, for instance, left seven dead, including three policemen, and more than six dozen wounded. Since the Wobbly violence occurred within an atmosphere of anonymous violence, the IWW became the symbol of assassination, bombings, and sabotage—even when its fingerprints were nowhere near the actual crime scene. When its fingerprints were all over the crime scene, conversely, the IWW's backers alleged setup, agent provocateurs, or some other conspiracy theory. The IWW, which openly supported violence in its publications, never actually engaged in violence—at least according to the naive accounts of courtier journalists and camp-follower historians. For their enemies, Wobblies acted as updated Molly Maguires. Methods of violence as a weapon of the working class to aid in its emancipation shall be expelled from membership in the party." Through his one good eye Big Bill Haywood clearly saw what was going on: "That looks like it was aimed at Me. "64 The specific effect was Haywood's expulsion. The general effect was to distance the Socialist Party from more radical elements, such as the anarchists and the IWW.

Daniel J. Flynn, A Conservative History of the American Left (New York, NY: Crown Forum, 2008), 164-168.

Another book that deals with subject of socialism and labor is a book by Ludwig Von Mises entitled, Socialism. The reviews at are worth reading.

…. According to these [tainted, class-warfare] views factory industry has a peculiar aversion to using fully trained labour. It is supposed to prefer the unskilled labourer, the weak woman, and the frail child to the all-round trained expert. For on the one hand it wishes to produce only inferior mass commodities, in the manufacture of which it has no use for the skilled employee; on the other, the simplicity of the movements involved in mechanical production enables industry to employ the undeveloped and the physically weak. As the factories are supposed to be profitable only if they under-pay the workers, it is natural that they should employ unskilled workers, women, and children and try to extend the working day as much as possible. It is supposed that this view can be substantiated by referring to the evolution of large scale industry. But in its beginnings large scale industry had to be content with such labour because at that time it could only employ labour outside the guild organization of handicrafts. It had to take the untrained women and children because they were the only ones available, and was forced to arrange its processes so as to manage with inferior labour. Wages paid in the factories were lower than the earnings of handicraft workers because the labour yield was lower. For the same reason the working-day was longer than in the handicrafts. Only when in time these conditions changed, could large scale industry change the conditions of its labour. The factory had no other alternative than to employ women and children in the beginning, fully trained workers not being available, but when, by competition, it had vanquished the older labour systems and had attracted to itself all the workers there employed, it altered its processes so that skilled male workers became the main labour factor and women and children were forced more and more out of industry. Wages rose, because the production of the efficient worker was higher than the production of the factory girl or child. The worker’s family found that the wife and children did not need to earn. Working hours lessened because the more intensive labour of the efficient worker made it possible a better exploitation of the machinery than could be achieved with the sluggish and un­skilled work of inferior labour.

The shorter working day and the limitation of woman and child labour, in so far as these improvements were in operation in Germany about the outbreak of the War, were by no means a victory won by the champions of the legal protection of labour from selfish entrepreneurs. They were the result of an evolution in large scale industry which, being no longer compelled to seek its workers on the fringe of economic life, had to transform its working conditions to suit the better quality of labour. On the whole, leg­islation has only anticipated changes which were maturing, or simply sanc­tioned those that had already taken place. Certainly it has always tried to go further than the development of industry allowed, but it has not been able to maintain the struggle. It has been obstructed, not so much by the resistance of entrepreneurs, as by the resistance of the workers themselves, a resistance not the less effective for being unvocal and little advertised. For the workers themselves had to pay for every protective regulation, directly as well as indirectly. A restriction on female and child labour burdened the workers' budget just as much as a limitation of employment in adult labour. The reduction in the supply of labour achieved by such measures does indeed raise the marginal productivity of labour and thus the wage rate correspond­ing to one unit of production. Whether this rise is sufficient to compensate the worker for the burden of rising commodity prices is questionable. One would have to examine the data of each individual example before forming any conclusions about this….