Today, I was looking through a mailbox for one of my blogs and there was a message from a user asking me: “I have a question for you, if…the people’s struggles are being ignored by the wealthy elite who are in control, then how should the country be run, whom should it be run by, and based on what principles should we be running it?” This question alone was not the reason I decided to write this article. After watching the full Howard Zinn’s masterful play that is funny and explains political theory called Marx in Soho, I was inspired to begin writing because the actor playing Karl Marx commented about the Paris Commune, saying it was a dictatorship of the proletariat, a government ruled by the workers that that worked on behalf of the people. I had already read about this before, but I wanted to learn more. In order to answer this question, I looked into the totality of human history to see if there were similar governments or societies that benefited the working-class and the people at-large.
I start the story with the idea of “primitive communism.” One learns time and time again that greed and brutality are inherent to human nature. Chris Harman challenges this in his book, A People’s History of the World, when he writes that for 90 percent of human history: “people shared with and helped each other, with no rulers and no ruled, no rich and no poor…The premium was on cooperation with each other, not competition…Those who could not…adopt…cooperative labour, and the new patterns of mental behavior that went with them, died out…The reality was very different [than]…the traditional Western image of such people as uncultured ‘savages.’ …People lived in loose-knit groups of 30 or 40 which might periodically get together with other groups in bigger gatherings of up to 200…There were no rulers, bosses, or class divisions in these societies…People cooperated with each other…without either bowing before a great leader or engaging in endless strife with each other…There was no private land ownership…Consensus was reached within whatever group would be carrying out a collective activity…Behavior was characterized by generosity rather than selfishness, and individuals helped each other…[while there was] the absence of male supremacy over women.” You may ask why this important. The reason is it shows that humans are inherently egalitarian and part of what Friedrich Engels called “primitive communism.” The second time in history, in the early agricultural societies, “egalitarianism and sharing remained all-pervasive” with communal property, having tribute chiefs receive redistributed among their subjects, and having the powers of chiefs checked and balanced by popular opinion and institutions. The idea of Greek democracy is often noted as a time when the people could have power (literally the word democracy means ‘rule of the people’), Harman writes that “in reality, it never referred to the whole people, since it excluded slaves, women, and resident non-citizens…It did not challenged the concentration of the rich, either…This was hardly surprising, since the leadership of the ‘democratic’ forces usually lay in the hands of dissident wealthy landowners.”
It wouldn’t be until 1492, when the vicious conqueror named Christopher Columbus goes onto an island in the Bahamas with Arawak Natives. Harman writes that the islands Columbus encountered “were inhabited by people who had neither states nor private property.” Spanish Priest Las Casas continues this in his account: “Marriage laws are non-existent men and women alike choose their mates and leave them as they please, without offense, jealousy or anger. They multiply in great abundance; pregnant women work to the last minute and give birth almost painlessly; up the next day, they bathe in the river and are as clean and healthy as before giving birth…they give themselves abortions with herbs that force stillbirths, covering their shameful parts with leaves or cotton cloth…Indian men and women look upon total nakedness with as much casualness as we look upon a man’s head or at his hands…[These natives live in] large communal bell-shaped buildings, housing up to 600 people at one time…They prize bird feathers of various colors, beads made of fishbones, and green and white stones with which they adorn their ears and lips, but they put no value on gold and other precious things. They lack all manner of commerce, neither buying nor selling, and rely exclusively on their natural environment for maintenance. They are extremely generous with their possessions and by the same token covet the possessions of their friends and expect the same degree of liberality.” Despite this communal spirit, the capitalistic, greedy Spaniards committed total genocide in which less than a million to eight million Arawaks were killed. In a novel that makes Columbus out to be the best person ever, a Harvard historian, Samuel Eliot Morison wrote almost as a footnote: “the cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide.”
Despite this brutal suppression of human’s natural state, the Iroquois nation had a similar communal spirit to the Arawaks. Howard Zinn writes in A People’s History of the United States that “in the villages of the Iroquois, land was owned in common and worked in common. Hunting was done together, and the catch was divided among the members of the village. Houses were considered common property and were shared by several families. The concept of private ownership of land and homes was foreign to the Iroquois…Women were important and respected in Iroquois society. Families were matrilineal…Each extended family lived in a “long house.” When a woman wanted a divorce, she set her husband’s things outside the door. Families were grouped in clans, and a dozen or more clans might make up a village. The senior women in the village named the men who represented the clans at village and tribal councils. They also named the forty-nine chiefs who were the ruling council for the Five Nation confederacy of the Iroquois. The women attended clan meetings, stood behind the circle of men who spoke and voted, and removed the men from office if they strayed too far from the wishes of the women…Children in Iroquois society, while taught the cultural heritage of their people and solidarity with the tribe, were also taught to be independent, not to submit to overbearing authority. They were taught equality in status and the sharing of possessions. The Iroquois did not use harsh punishment on children; they did not insist on early weaning or early toilet training, but gradually allowed the child to learn self-care…He who stole another’s food or acted invalourously in war was “shamed” by his people and ostracized from their company until he had atoned for his actions and demonstrated to their satisfaction that he had morally purified himself.” After this, the Iroquois society went into decline. But, the spirit of sharing continued on, in Africa, where before European main contact, there was a strong amount of tribal life, and despite the amount of slavery, there was a communal spirit, a kinder approach to law and punishment, meaning that authorities couldn’t make as many people fall into line. As a result, when blacks were taken into the transatlantic slave trade, Howard Zinn wrote that since they “came from a settled culture, of tribal customs and family ties, of communal life and traditional ritual…[they] found themselves especially helpless when removed from this.”
As communal societies began to fade away, governments controlled by the common man and/or the workers came together. In 1747, Boston rioters who had already resisted impressment gangs in the wharves and taverns of the city in 1741, 1742 and 1745, challenged those that were trying to impress them. Officers of the ship that was trying to impress them were taken as hostages, the windows of the chamber of the Council were broken while on land, according to Ray Raphael’s A People’s History of American Revolution, “the people reigned supreme. They literally shored the British Navy (or so they thought).” The Governor of Massachusetts at the time “called out the militia, but only the officers showed up—the rest of the militiamen, it seems, were part of the crowd. Commodore Knowles…announced he would bombard Boston with warships…[but] the greatest damage would…accrue to the property of the rich, not the rioters. The laboring classes of Boston remained…in control of their city for three days until [the] Governor…negotiated the release of most of the impressed seamen.” One could consider this the first worker’s government. Twenty years later, as Raphael notes, “the settlers of the South Carolina backcountry…complained about the lack of government protection from…villains…who [raided the surrounding land]…[eventually] lacking county sheriffs and courts to administer law and order, respectable citizens felt they had no choice but to regulate society on their own. For the following three years, the interior of South Carolina came under the control of vigilante “Regulators” who tracked down the bandits, captured and tried them, and administered punishment: flogging, forced labor, exile, and…hanging.” What the Regulators did is not a model for any sort of governing, but still these citizens took control for themselves, challenging the rule of those currently in place. The next attempt at rule in the thirteen colonies for the “body of the people” came during the little known Massachusetts Revolution of 1774, when Yankee farmers showed up in the thousands to stop a court in Worchester that would have sentenced them for unpaid debts, which morphed into a ‘county convention’ that took over executive and legislative authority, ordering “the sheriff to adjourn the Superior Court, freed all prisoners charged only with debt, and fired public officers who refused to resign. It [also] recommended that the towns keep the money they collected in taxes rather than turn it over to British-appointed authorities…[and] urged the towns to “provide themselves immediately with one or more field-pieces.” This resistance spread to other towns (Plymouth, Taunton, Springfield, Concord, Great Barrington), where “judges with powdered wigs and long robes…humbled themselves before farmers with mud on their boots” which was a genuine show of the people, which was also decentralized with no specific leaders, rather all decisions were made by those who participated in the actions, while “communications were conducted through ad hoc communities.” This governing force, in a sense, forced resignations of councilors appointed by the British crown and judges with mass crowds to intimidate them, leading to the creation to a Provincial Congress (General Gage abolished elections in the state) which elected representatives of the people, “commandeered public funds but declaring all taxes must…be paid to its receiver general, [not the old government]…it assumed…legislative and executive powers of government…call[ing]…for acquisition of [enough]…cannon…muskets, shot and powder…to equip an army of 5,000 soldiers.” Raphael puts it eloquently: “without the loss of a single human life, the mightiest empire in the world was forced to withdraw from the Massachusetts countryside.” This was the first farmers’ government in history, and if the British hadn’t fired the first shot in April 1775, then it is possible that the rebellious spirit would have spread to other states resulting in a possible peaceful independence from Britain without resulting in 25,000 deaths (how many American soldiers died by the end of the American Revolutionary war).
There were some wisps at other governments that served the people. In 1776, as Harman notes, “4,000 called for a convention of delegates to decide on the…future [of the Pennsylvania colony], and the call received support of the Committee of Privates, made up of representatives of the colony’s militia. The old assembly was suddenly powerless…on 18 June the popular convention to draw up the most radical constitution…seen anywhere. This gave the vote to 90 percent of the male population, but denied it to anyone who would not foreswear allegiance to the king.” Raphael adds onto this, saying that “the Pennsylvania constitution of 1776…placed more power in the hands of the common people than any constitution for any state at any time in the history [of the United States]…All governmental power was vested in a unicameral legislative body directly responsible to the electorate. Assemblymen, elected each year could serve only four years in any seven year period; members of the executive council who served three consecutive years….congressional delegates could not serve more than two terms in a row; County positions…became elected, while all resident adult males who paid any taxes…became eligible to hold office…[In addition] the state was required to print weekly reports on roll-call votes, while chambers were to…remain open…all bills of public nature…had to be…printed for the consideration of the people before coming to a vote, and no bill could be passed until the meeting after it was introduced.” While the militia never controlled the government directly, they pushed their egalitarian fervor into the government which was very influential overall. It took until after the revolution for this fervor to return in terms of people-controlled governments.
Farmers were mad for good reason: the revolution had kept the same wealthy class intact while removing the British. Massachusetts farmers led by Daniel Gray, then by Daniel Shay rebelled against this and stopped courts that would charge them with debts they could not pay in 1786. While they were crushed by military forces, they were not the only ones. Howard Zinn writes that “in Rhode Island, the debtors had taken over the legislature and were issuing paper money [while] in New Hampshire, several hundred men, in September of 1786, surrounded the legislature in Exeter, asking that taxes be returned and paper money issued; they dispersed only when military action was threatened.” These actions showed the power of the people especially debtors taking over the legislature of Rhode Island. Specifically, this revolutionary spirit was part of the reason James Madison (under the pseudonym of Publius) wrote in Federalist No. 10, his fear of popular governance: “A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.” In the end, it was actually one of the reasons the Constitution of the United States was created, that the delegates at the Convention were afraid of popular rule, and as a result, they created a central government that less influenced by the people and unlike state governments of the time the House of Representatives became the only institution completely elected by the people while the President and Senate aren’t directly elected by the people, and specifically this document was created to create authority to structure way to repay war debt to France, Holland and Spain and in order to get money from private citizens to spread debt out as Congress becomes the ultimate arbiter of debt. Article VI of the Constitution says that all debts are enforced by the federal government, which invalidates debt relief laws and makes it so some go to debtors’ prison. As a result, it is no surprise that farmers like Daniel Shay, those in Rhode Island, and New Hampshire among other states rebelled against these policies. With the coming of this new government, the amount of people’s governments comes to zero until the French Revolution.
In what some have called the ‘second revolution’ in France, there was tumultuous change. Red Pepper, a leftist British magazine, writes that on August 10th, 1792, the French king was overthrown and direct action, “the Parisian masses…invad[ed]…the Tuileries palace and arrest[ed] the king…[resulting] in…the assembly call[ing]…a general election – the first election in Europe conducted under universal adult male suffrage.” These elections were very democratic, including “wide-ranging debates, and the results were a resounding confirmation of the action of the Paris masses. The 750 deputies elected to the ‘convention’ were overwhelmingly committed to the formation of a new republic.” This action confirmed the power of the masses of Paris, which eventually organized in “neighborhood committees…and commune of Paris” which would allow them in the year to follow to “force their ‘popular programme’ on an often reluctant convention…that…included not only stiff measures against ‘counter-revolutionaries’ but also price controls and action against hoarders and speculators.” This would be the first time that France would be ruled by the people at-large, the next time in 1848. Eventually, this programme would disintegrate with the violent terrors of the later parts of the French Revolution and control taken away from the people once again, but this is just another example of people’s rule.
Back on the other side of the ocean, the Cherokee society, just like other American Indian societies I’ve described (Arawaks and Iroquois) was very egalitarian. Before 1828 when a government was created which voted for money for a printing press, there was no formal government at all. Van Every described their society as follows: “the foundation…of Indian government had always been the rejection of government. The freedom of the individual was regarded…as…more precious than the individual’s duty to his community or nation. This anarchistic attitude ruled all behavior, beginning with the smallest social unit, the family. The Indian parent was constitutionally reluctant to discipline his children.’ Their every exhibition of self-will was accepted as a favorable indication of the development of maturing character…[at certain times] there was an…assembling of a council, with a very loose and changing membership, whose decisions were not enforced except by the influence of public opinion.” A Minister who lived among them gave this account: “for ages, without convulsions and without civil discords, this traditional government…[has] no positive laws, but only long established habits and customs, no code of jurisprudence, but the experience of former times, no magistrates, but advisers, to whom the people nevertheless, pay a willing and implicit obedience, in which age confers rank, wisdom gives power, and moral goodness secures title to universal respect.” Like all other societies, it was crushed by the power of the capitalists, this time led by the ‘populist’ Andrew Jackson and enforced in the evictions done by the US Army.
During the revolution of 1848, another egalitarian society was not created, rather a government of the workers was created again in Paris. Like the Occupy Movement, when they called for a universal living wage in May 2012, in the city of Paris, according to Chris Harman, “workers and artisans…demanded work at a living wage” along with other demands, and the government “formed amid the armed crowds…was in no condition to ignore the demands they raised…[so it] decreed a one and half hour reduction in the working day and promised employment for all citizens. It set up ‘national workshops’ to provide work for the unemployed, and…[the] minister of labour, established a ‘labour commission’…where…600 [to]…800 members [including]…employers’ representatives, workmen’s representatives, economists of every school…became a ‘virtual parliament.’” This didn’t last long as the bourgeois republicans in power worked to “placate the financers by recognising the debts of the old regime…they imposed a tax on the peasantry” and by June of 1848, “every gain the workers and artisans had made in February was taken from them” which led to the workers arming themselves with a civil war raging through the city resulting the defeat of the workers and artisans. Even with this defeat, this was in a sense the second ‘workers’ government of Paris, with the real deal happening in 1871.
After a failed war with Prussia when French forces were defeated, the king abdicated while the capitalistic republican opposition took over the city. Soon, the “Prussian army was soon besieging Paris” while the citizens of the city “held out through five months in conditions of incredible hardship,” during which ordinary Parisians had worked together to defend the city, raising money to buy weapons to defend it, with some even trying to overthrow the capitalistic government which failed twice. It wasn’t until the Vice-President of the French government of the time surrendered to the Prussians that the Parisian poor began to feel betrayed as they felt they had suffered for nothing while the French army was disbanded and there was a middle class flight out of city, “leaving the National Guard…as a working class body.” In acts of bravery, the people of Paris that comprised the National Guard surrounded the soldiers resulting in Thiers and his government to flee the capital, so as Harman declares, “one of the world’s great cities was in the hands of armed workers.” Anti-Capitalist Meetup writes on Firedoglake that “the workers, artisans and general population , the 99 Percenters of those days, had taken control of its government by forming self-organized communes (councils) in each of 20…administrative districts…of Paris and held off the French Provisional government.” More specifically, “ordinary citizens under the flag of the Paris Commune, declared on March 29, 1871…[participated in]…councils [that] were established in each of the 20 [districts]…meeting daily to debate, decree and take actions, issuing their directives by pamphlets and “word of mouth” communications.
Harman expands on this, writing that “the armed masses exercised power at first through the elected leaders of the National Guard…But these were determined to…[create a] dictatorship. They organized elections for a new elected body, the Commune, based on universal male suffrage in each locality…these elected were to be subject to immediate recall by their electors and to receive no more than the average wage of a skilled worker. What’s more, the elected representatives would not simply pass laws which a hierarchy of highly paid bureaucratic officials would be expected to implement, they were to make sure their own measures were put into effect. This Commune which represented “the city’s working people, the Commune set about implementing measures in their interests—banning night work in bakeries and the employers’ imposition of fines on employees, handing over to associations of workers any workshops or factories shut down by their owners, providing pensions for widows…free education for every child, and stopping the collection of debts incurred during the siege and eviction for non-payment of rent. The Commune also showed its internationalism by tearing down monuments to militarism and appointing a German worker as its minister of labour.” In their vision for the future, the “communards hoped…that their model of self-government would be taken up throughout France, if not all of Europe [but] this was effectively undermined by seizure and burning of all information from Paris to the outlying districts and towns by the Thiers government.” Just like the Occupy Movement, “the Communards faced their own “Black Bloc” problems, and likely had to deal with the egoists and those who otherwise obstructed or held the movement back…[which included] some [who]…feared taking the offensive against the bourgeoisie and its Provisional Government supporters.” As a result, Karl Marx “hailed the fact that this was the first French government to not only legislate but act themselves to carry out the new laws, and their actions were carried out by ordinary French citizens who were democratically elected and subject to immediate recall.” Even so, Marx criticized these forces “for being too cautious in running their city, and not making use of the money that was sitting in the national bank in Paris, although they did issue a decree nationalizing all church property.” With this money, they could “have fed all of the [citizens in]…starving Paris.” As they did not take these measures, “the Commune faced overwhelming odds” as Thiers, the head of the capitalistic republican government suppressed the other communes in the country while putting an “information cordon” around the city, which prohibited any information about the commune from getting out and he laid siege to the city, and while “the workers of Paris fought street by street, block by block, building by building” the violent defeat of this Commune resulted in deaths ranging between 20,000 and 30,000 civilians! In the end, “Karl Marx…saw that [the Commune]…represented the greatest challenge the new world of capital had yet faced—and the greatest inspiration to the new class created by capital but in opposition to it.”
In New Orleans, many years later, in 1892, a general strike shut down the city. Unions demanded to be recognized and basically all of the unionized workers went on strike, 25,000 workers in all. By November 8th, the electrical grid, the natural gas supply, food and beverage delivery, the running of streetcars, street cleaning, manufacturing, printing and construction came to a halt. Despite the press’s appeal to racial hatred, there were no violent incidents and few strikebreakers were able to come to break up the strike. Eventually, militia units were sent in and once they came into the city, found it orderly and calm, so the governor withdrew troops on November 11th. After over two days of negotiations, those employing the workers agreed to overtime pay and a 10-hour day but not the union shop, while other unions won some reduced pay and hours. Despite the fact that a union shop was not granted, many have declared this strike a success, saying since it brought together white and black workers, that in and of itself was a victory. While this wasn’t necessarily a government, it was still workers taking over the city for a few days for their benefit.
Twenty years later, there was another general strike which would go even farther than the one in New Orleans. Trade union members in Brisbane, Australia began a general strike for the right to join a union and right to wear a badge. Only a few days into the strike, the strike committee became a government in its own right so that all work done in the city had to be approved by a special permit issued by the committee. Later, 500 vigilance officers were put in place to make the strikers orderly, an Ambulance Brigade was created, government departments and private employers needed permission of the committee to do any work, strike coupons were issued and public rallies and daily processions were held to keep strikers occupied. In order to counter anti-union bias in the newspapers, the strike committee issued a Strike Bulletin. Interestingly enough, only when the strike spread to railways did the government become concerned and banned processions altogether, which led to ‘Black Friday’ on February 2nd, 1912 when 15,000 people peacefully showed up in the main square of the town and police batoned them since the police commissioner had refused they could demonstrate. However, this strike once over did not change the political climate much (those supporting strikers were absorbed into the political system) and in some ways it got worse. Still, the control of the city is to be applauded because the workers stood up for what’s right.
After the Tsar abdicated in 1917, there were two options for who would rule: the bourgeois politicians of the old legislature, the Duma, or “workers delegates, drawn together in a workers’ council, or soviet.” Up to the moment the Tsar abdicated, the bourgeoisie was negotiating to reform the monarchy, yet the government that replaced him was dominated by industrialists and large landowners. The workers’ delegates did not like this new government but they didn’t have the confidence to stand up to those in power. Once the provisional government failed, the workers began to ally more behind the Bolsheviks. By October 1917 this association was important because in the words of Chris Harman: “a congress of workers, soldiers and peasants had taken state power in a country of 160 million, stretching from the Pacific coast to the Baltic.” But, however only a small amount of the population had participated in this revolution “because they were not socialists, because it offered the same gains as a classic bourgeois revolution—the division of land.” Eventually, as similar revolutions did not occur in other advanced industrial nations, and with the intervention by Western powers ending in 1921, the government turned to the use of state terror against those against the revolution. Even so, the regime remained intact and the inspiration for this revolution resulted in workers taking over numerous towns in Germany, resulting in the declaration of a ‘socialist republic’ led by workers councils or soviets. However, this was co-opted by those in power who wanted gradual change rather than immediate change. In other places in Europe, the revolutionary spirit didn’t result in workers governments, but in Italy in 1920 huge strikes across the country paralyzed the government and peasants began dividing up the land which was ended when the union of the metal workers worked to a peaceful outcome to solve the dispute making the metal workers themselves feeling defeated, that they had been engaged in a revolution but there were only few minor changes.
Back in America, a general strike in Seattle would be another show of worker power. Even when the IWW leadership was in jail in February 1919 a general strike “became [a] reality for five days in Seattle, Washington, when a walkout of 100,000 working people brought the city to a halt” as Howard Zinn writes in A People’s History of the United States. When the strike had gone into full effect: “the city now stopped functioning, except for activities organized by the strikers to provide essential needs. Firemen agreed to stay on the job. Laundry workers handled only hospital laundry. Vehicles authorized to move carried signs “Exempted by the General Strike Committee.” Thirty-five neighborhood milk stations were set up. Every day thirty thousand meals were prepared in large kitchens, then transported to halls all over the city and served cafeteria style, with strikers paying twenty-five cents a meal, the general public thirty-five cents. People were allowed to eat as much as they wanted of the beef stew, spaghetti, bread, and coffee. A Labor War Veteran’s Guard was organized to keep the peace” which didn’t carry weapons but rather used persuasion to stop crime which seemed to work because while the strike was going on “crime in the city decreased [and] the commander of the U.S. army detachment sent into the area told the strikers’ committee that in forty years of military experience he hadn’t seen so quiet and orderly a city. Still, the strike didn’t last forever because “almost a thousand sailors and marines were brought into the city by the U.S. government” and “pressure from the international officers of the various unions, as well as the difficulties of living in a shut-down city” caused he peaceful strike to end. Once it ended there were “raids and arrests: on the Socialist party headquarters, on a printing plant [and] thirty-nine members of the IWW were jailed as “ring- leaders of anarchy.” In some ways, despite the repressive measures taken after the strike, it was a success because the workers owned the city.
Around the same time (1918-1919), in Ukraine the “Free Territory” was flourishing. Since the territory was created in an anarchist fashion, thinking that there were was a “government” is not really correct. All political parties were banned, all dictatorships were rejected, the concept of the state was negated, any type of ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was rejected and self-management of ever worker through soviets (workers’ councils) was also encouraged. This society as one could call it was run by Ukrainian workers and peasants which was founded on “equality and solidarity of its members” where “everyone, men and women, worked together with a perfect conscience” where an economy existed that was based on free exchange between all communities. In addition, the central government was opposed and Makhno, the military officer called for “[f]reedom of speech, press, assembly, unions and the like;” but anyone that tried to oppose him, their organization was dissolved (as with the revolutionary committees of the Bolsheviks). However, they became to fall apart when the Bolshevik government began to put out propaganda attacking the society, eventually leading to its demise. Despite its anarchical setup, certain ideas of this society could be emulated in current societies.
Revolutionary Catalonia was a wonderful place in terms of people power. George Orwell wrote about Barcelona in 1936: “Practically any building….had been seized by workers. Every shop and cafe had…an inscription saying it was collectivised…Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as equals….ceremonial forms of speech has temporarily disappeared. There were no private cars; they had all been commandeered…In outward appearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist. Above all there was belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in a capitalist machine.” Basically there factories and businesses were controlled by the workers, the countryside farmland was collectivized, while nationalists and catholic clergy were killed. What Orwell described is correct because much of the economy came under control of forces where there was worker’s self-management, which included much of the public transportation, utilities, mines, newspapers, dwellings owned by capitalist class and much more. As for small businesses, they were unionized. But, conflicts developed when some refused to join collectives as they wanted higher wages, a large amount of small farmers and peasants opposed collectivization in general unless they were intimidated to change, socialists wanted nationalization rather than collectivization of industry and many of the firms that were collectivized were also bankrupt, meaning that they needed government aid. As a result of these problems, smaller plants were closed down and larger shops were prioritized. Around the same time, the anarcho-feminist women’s movement in the state began to argue that ending the patriarchal society was needed as much as having a classless society. Still, opposition began to brew when certain newspapers that were communist began a propaganda campaign against those who were governing Revolutionary Catalonia while troops under the command of certain army officials dissolved numerous revolutionary committees in the region, the Communists arrested, assassinated and tortured officials that were in the ruling CNT and rural collectives were also destroyed in a campaign by the communists which caused a good amount of discontent resulting in some being restored. In the end, the Spanish republican forces were defeated in a place described by Bryan Caplan as one with rising unemployment and falling industrial production in anarchist Catalonia. Still, parts of the original society offer a good example for what a future society should be like.
Ten years later, a general strike took place in Oakland, California. It started as women in two different department stores going on strike, but when the police broke it up and beat the strikers, the reaction was a general strike across the city. This involved about 130,000 people, who stopped work, which basically shut down the city. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote in 2002 that the city was shut down for “days, and about a quarter of the city’s population…supported the strike.” Street car drivers, other transit operators, bus drivers, and city at large had people joining together in what was they called a “work holiday” asking for “rights of the workers at Khan’s and Hastings be honored…[so] they’d be able to have a stable work life which meant a union contract, better wages, and a work situation where they had the rights that had been fought for really in the ’30s.” Eventually, since “the ruling elite that really ran Oakland…shut down their tribune…the Post Enquirer…the Times Star…[and] the Daily Gazette,” the strikers decided that “no media except the ones created by the strikers would be allowed on the streets,” which allowed them to separate themselves from the mainstream media demonizing their strike. This strike didn’t last forever, but it showed the power of people to shut down a city.
In 1956, a wonderful thing happened where a workers government just like the one of the Paris Commune was formed, but not in France, but in Hungary. It was the Hungarian Revolution which was created when shockwaves sent from a strike in Poland where workers elected their own committees the same year reached the country. Chris Harman writes in A People’s History of the World that eventually “workers grabbed guns from sports clubs inside factories, won over soldiers from one of the barracks, and soon took control of much of the city [of Budapest] In every town in the country similar movements left local power in the hands of factory councils and revolutionary committees.” With this success, a part of the old regime tried to regain power by putting “a…disgraced Communist, Imre Nagy, at head of a coalition government,” but before that would come into full effect, on the fateful day of November 4th, “Russian tanks swept into Budapest and seized key buildings…[and] fac[ing]…bitter armed resistance… they eventually… kill[ed] thousands.” Even with this defeat, Harman writes that this revolution “challenged the ruling ideologies of both sides in the Cold War…prov[ing]…that the USSR had long ceased to stand in the tradition of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Rosa Luxemburg. It also showed how wrong the liberals and social democrats…who held…it was necessary to support Western imperialism against [the USSR].” The reason this is so important is that the Soviet and United States “hastened to bury the memory of the revolution” so it must be remembered so that all that mention the Soviet Union are discredited in this regard.
Twelve years later during the ‘revolution of 1968,’ murmurs of something more came in France once again. In May 1968 there was the first ‘wildcat’ general strike ever which is the only one to bring the economy of an advanced country to a stop. Starting with occupations by students (as with the Hungarian Revolution in 1956), over twenty-two percent of the country’s population which consisted of 11 million workers went on strike for two weeks continuously. This almost caused the collapse of the government of the French President at the time, Charles De Gaulle which also turned it against the Communist Party of France and trade unions. When police tried to stop the strikes, it only led to more inflammation and greater strikes throughout the country. Eventually, the protests engulfed the country so much, that leaders feared that a revolution or civil war would occur, so the French president fled the country and when he returned, he dissolved the National Assembly and called for parliamentary elections in June of that year. However, this spirit was lose when the elections came around, when workers went back to work and the party behind De Gaulle was even stronger than before. Even so, this strike shows the power of people and their persistence of action.
No workers governments or egalitarian societies blossomed in the period between 1968 and the early 1990s. At that point, the “communist utopia” in Spain was formed with Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo as its mayor. As the business press outlet, the New York Times, writes while “Spain’s real estate bust is fueling rampant unemployment, this Communist enclave, surrounded by sloping olive groves, is thumbing its nose at its countrymen’s capitalist folly. Attracted by its municipal housing program and bustling farming cooperative, people from neighboring villages and beyond have come here seeking jobs or homes…While the rest of Spain gorged on cheap credit to buy overpriced houses, the people of Marinaleda were building their own, mortgage-free, under a municipal program…If a resident loses his job, the cooperative hires him…so nobody wants for work…Over the years, the residents have occupied farms, picketed government offices and held hunger strikes to demand work and land…Political murals and revolutionary slogans adorn the town’s whitewashed walls and streets are named after Latin American leftists. Every few weeks, the town hall declares a Red Sunday over a bullhorn and volunteers clean the streets or do odd jobs. For one hour on television each Saturday, the mayor holds forth on politics or recites his own poetry, his trademark Palestinian scarf draped round his neck. He has rallied the residents around a plethora of causes, from resisting genetically modified crops to supporting the Sahrawi people’s struggle for self-determination in Western Sahara…Back in town is the other jewel in Marinaleda’s Communist crown: a colony of neat, three-bedroom houses, built on municipal land with materials from the regional government. Prospective owners donate about 450 days of their work to the construction. The rub: to prevent people from profiting, residents cannot sell their houses…Salvador Becera, an expert in anthropology at the Center for Andalusian Studies in Seville, said Mr. Sánchez had brought social equity to an uneducated, economically oppressed community.” Still, as the New York Times always does, they give the opposition equal weight even if its arguments are complete and utter crap, with the “opposition” saying Gordillo gives “handouts” to keep workers or that he is the biggest landowner in the town and so on. Only Wikipedia brings up a valid point, that “G5% to 75% of the income that Marinaleda has throughout the year…comes from the European Union…creating a contradiction of the “communist utopia” surviving thanks to capitalism.” Still, this town can be a model for other cities on a worldwide scale which could adopt similar measures.
Since you’ve spent your precious time reading this article, it is only fair to make a timeline of governments and societies that were controlled by the “body of people”:
· 1 million-10,000 years ago: Primitive Communism
· Pre-1500s: Arawak Indians, society that is very egalitarian.
· Pre-1450s: Iroquois Indians, very egalitarian society with no real government
· Pre-1490s: Africans live in tribal, communal societies (very few of this is left)
· 1747: Boston laborers rule the city for three days, first workers government
· 1774: Massachusetts Revolution of 1774, first farmers government
· 1776: PA Constitution places more power in the hands of the common people than any constitution for any state at any time in the history
· 1786: Farmers revolt across the United States against the Constitution, debtors take over legislature in New Hampshire
· 1792: The ‘second revolution’ in France, workers influence the government
· Pre-1828: Cherokee society, very egalitarian
· 1848: People of Paris influence the government but do not take it over
· 1871: Paris Commune, the first example of a “dictatorship of the proletariat” in the eyes of Karl Marx
· 1892: New Orleans General Strike, blacks and whites unite but are ultimately not successful in every regard, but still an achievement
· 1912: Brisbane General Strike, strike committee is alternative government over the city
· 1919: Seattle General Strike shuts down the city for five days, which is very peaceful and an example for other areas
· 1918-1919: Free Territory in Ukraine, based on anarchist principles
· 1936-1937: Revolutionary Catalonia, some anarchism, praised by George Orwell, but includes collectivization and causes resentment
· 1946: Oakland strike, whole city shut down for some time
· 1956: The Hungarian National Government, second ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in eyes of some
· 1968: Protests in France, first big wildcat strike to shut down an economy
· 1990s-Present: Marinaleda, called a “communist utopia” stays intact with the “Spanish Robin Hood” (Juan Gordillo) as its mayor
As you may have noticed from this article I have excluded a number of “socialist states.” The reason I have done this is that all of these states are not really socialist, run by the people or workers at-large. The Soviet Union was basically a totalitarian dictatorship, nowhere close to a state working in the interest of the people, the People’s Republic of China still is a dictatorship over the proletariat with it being more state capitalist in its imperialistic race with the United States in an attempt to become a world power, North Korea is just a brutal dictatorship that doesn’t tolerate dissent, Cuba has despite the fact that it is not as bloody as China’s government has become very repressive in other ways so that it doesn’t really serve the people, Venezuela is ruled by an authoritarian named Hugo Chavez who has despite his popularity (and certain policies which have benefited the people) been very repressive against those who oppose him, and Vietnam which is still ‘socialist’ is not so as it is also a repressive dictatorship interestingly supported by the United States government. That last sentence is for those people that associate Socialism or Marxism with any of those regimes. None of the regimes I just listed were socialist or Marxist at all, rather they use(d) the rhetoric from these ideologies to justify their actions. Also in this article I did not talk about communes like the one in Oneida in the 1840s, the reason for that is most of these experiments were in local living and just talking about one commune would not being doing all of them justice, rather one would have to write a whole article examining the communes overall and their effectiveness.
To get back to the main question this piece tries to address, in the totality of human history, it is hard to choose one society over another. It seems that people would not be keen to go back to ‘primitive communism,’ though I feel that ideas could be taken from people living in the natural state of humanity. This put forward in a very relevant Bhikku Buddhadasa quote: “a system in which people cannot encroach on each other’s rights or plunder their possessions is in accordance with nature and occurs naturally, and that is how it has become a society continued to be one, until trees became abundant, animals became abundant, and eventually human beings became abundant in the world. The freedom to hoard was tightly controlled by nature in the form of natural socialism.” I do believe that ideas could also be taken from the “communist utopia” in Spain, Marinaleda. What would be a good government in my view would be one that combines the ideas put out in the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 and the Paris Commune of 1871. On a rural level, I believe the model of governance put forth in the Massachusetts Revolution of 1774 would be a good one (not the regulator movement in South Carolina in the 1760s-1770s). In the end, I believe that using this rich history of societies and governments on the side of the common people and the workers, that it can be a lesson for now on what worked and what did not work in the industrial age.
By Burkely Hermann
We all live in prison already. In the course of the last few years, the physical structure of the prison has been moved farther and farther from our eyes — into those outskirts where its gloomy presence doesn’t end up darkening the gaudy windows of the municipal center, but fits in perfectly with the squalor of those outskirts. At the same time, its shadow has started to weigh down more and more over all of us without leaving us alone for a moment. The merit, if it can be called this, is in the introduction of new technologies that have allowed an unimaginable leap forward in the sphere of social control. As with every other technological innovation, the technologies of surveillance, which were tested in prison in order to keep the most riotous prisoners at bay, have found a civil application. After all, security inside the prisons begins with security outside the walls. This explains the startling number of video cameras found in every corner of our cities (and even inside buses and trains), the obligatory routes we are forced to take for our movements, the magnetic detectors that inspect us at the exists of many businesses, the identification codes that replace our individuality, the innumerable prohibitions that it is necessary to respect as well as the variegated crowd of guardians put in place to safeguard the world, in short, all of these things that plague our existence. Thanks to the new identification cards, we will not have to be arrested any more in order to supply our fingerprints. Since we are all potential criminals, we are all treated as such. Step by step, the entire society is becoming a huge open-air prison from which it is impossible to escape. Aside from realizing the worst totalitarian nightmare — the one that doesn’t even need to send armored cars or patrols of soldiers into the streets because it has partially replaced them with tiny, less visible technological prostheses — all this obscures the difference that exists between those who find themselves behind the bars. Obscures it to such as extent that the very notion of freedom becomes merely a nebulous gradation and, on the other hand, submission to coercion becomes precise, scientific, concrete and above all normal.–
A Crime Called Freedom: The Writings of Os Cangacieros (via ninjabikeslut)
This reminds me of those haunting lines of Bob Dylan’s song, George Jackson:
Sometimes I think this whole world
Is one big prison yard
Some of us are prisoners
The rest of us are guards
Also it relates to the chapter in Howard Zinn’s book,A People’s History of the United States titled “The Coming Revolt of the Guards” in which he writes:
“The fact of that discontent is clear. The surveys since the early seventies show 70 to 80 percent of Americans distrustful of government, business, the military. This means the distrust goes beyond blacks, the poor, the radicals. It has spread among skilled workers, white-collar workers, professionals; for the first time in the nation’s history, perhaps, both the lower classes and the middle classes, the prisoners and the guards, were disillusioned with the system…The prospect is for times of turmoil, struggle, but also inspiration. There is a chance that such a movement could succeed in doing what the system itself has never done-bring about great change with little violence. This is possible because the more of the 99 percent that begin to see themselves as sharing needs, the more the guards and the prisoners see their common interest, the more the Establishment becomes isolated, ineffectual. The elite’s weapons, money, control of information would be useless in the face of a determined population.”
This also in light of 49 percent of Americans saying they like socialism which I believe is a good thing not a bad thing
Hey we fucked up America in 8 years, yet we expect the black guy to fix all the shit we left in LESS than 8 years.
Plus your usual scheduled programming of anti-equality sentiment and bigotry.
Don’t forget that there was a bipartisan consensus that fucked up America. It wasn’t only the Republicans, it was the Democrats too, just another part of the elite, the political elite to be more specific.
The Screwed Election: Wall Street Can’t Lose, and America Can’t Win
August 11, 2012 - by Joel Kotkin
About two in three Americans do not think what’s good for Wall Street is good for America, according to the 2012 Harris poll, but do think people who work there are less “honest and moral than other people,” and don’t “deserve to make the kind of money they earn.” Confidence in banks is at a record low, according to Gallup, as they’ve suffered the steepest fall in esteem of any American institution over the past decade. And people have put their money where their mouth is, with $171 billion leaving the stock market last year alone, and 80 percent of Wall Street communications executives conceded that public perception of their firms was not good.
Americans are angry at the big-time bankers and brokers, and yet, far from a populist attack on crony capitalism, Wall Street is sitting pretty, looking ahead to a presidential election that it can’t possibly lose. They have bankrolled a nifty choice between President Obama, the largest beneficiary of financial-industry backing in history and Mitt Romney, one of their very own.
One is to the manner born, the other a crafty servant; neither will take on the power.
Think of this: despite taking office in the midst of a massive financial meltdown, Obama’s administration has not prosecuted a single heavy-hitter among those responsible for the financial crisis. To the contrary, he’s staffed his team with big bankers and their allies. Under the Bush-Obama bailouts the big financial institutions have feasted like pigs at the trough, with the six largest banks borrowing almost a half trillion dollars from uncle Ben Bernanke’s printing press. In 2013 the top four banks controlled more than 40 percent of the credit markets in the top 10 states—up by 10 percentage points from 2009 and roughly twice their share in 2000. Meantime, small banks, usually the ones serving Main Street businesses, have taken the hit along with the rest of us with more than 300 folding since the passage of Dodd-Frank, the industry-approved bill to “reform” the industry.
Yet past the occasional election-year bout of symbolic class warfare, the oligarchs have little to fear from an Obama victory.
“Too big to fail,” enshrined in the Dodd-Frank bill, enjoys the full and enthusiastic support of the administration. Obama’s financial tsar on the GM bailout, Steven Rattner, took to The New York Times to stress that Obamians see nothing systemically wrong with the banking system we have now, blaming the 2008 market meltdown on “old-fashioned poor management.”
“In a world of behemoth banks,” he explained to we mere mortals, “it is wrong to think we can shrink ours to a size that eliminates the ‘too big to fail’ problem without emasculating one of our most successful industries.”
But consider the messenger. Rattner, while denying wrongdoing, paid $6.2 million and accepted a two-year ban on associating with any investment adviser or broker-dealer to settle with the SEC over the agency’s claims that he had played a role in a pay-to-play scheme involving a $50,000 contribution to the now-jailed politician who controlled New York State’s $125 billion pension fund. He’s also expressed unlimited admiration for the Chinese economic system, the largest expression of crony capitalism in history. Expect Rattner to be on hand in September, when Democrats gather in Charlotte, the nation’s second-largest banking city, inside the Bank of America Stadium to formally nominate Obama for a second term.
In a sane world, one would expect Republicans to run against this consolidation of power, that has taxpayers propping up banks that invest vast amounts in backing the campaigns of the lawmakers who levy those taxes. The party would appeal to grassroots capitalists, investors, small banks and their customers who feel excluded from the Washington-sanctioned insiders’ game. The popular appeal is there. The Tea Party, of course, began as a response against TARP.
Instead, the partynominated a Wall Street patrician, Mitt Romney, whose idea of populism seems to be donning a well-pressed pair of jeans and a work shirt.
Romney himself is so clueless as to be touting his strong fund-raising with big finance. His top contributors list reads something like a rogue’s gallery from the 2008 crash: Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Citicorp, and Barclays. If Obama’s Hollywood friends wanted to find a perfect candidate to play the role of out-of-touch-Wall Street grandee, they could do worse than casting Mitt.
With Romney to work with, David Axelrod’s dog could design the ads right now.
True, some of the finance titans who thought Obama nifty back in 2008 have had their delicate psyches ruffled by the president’s election-year attacks on the “one percent.” But the “progressives,” now tethered to Obama’s chain, are deluding themselves if they think the president’s neo-populist rancor means much of anything. They get to serve as what the Old Bosheviks would have called “useful idiots,” pawns in the fight between one group of oligopolists and another.
This division can be seen in the financial community as well. For the most part Obama has maintained the loyalty of those financiers, like Rattner, who seek out pension funds to finance their business. Those who underwrite and speculate on public debt have reason to embrace Washington’s free spenders. They are also cozy to financiers like John Corzine, the former Goldman Sachs CEO and governor of New Jersey, whose now-disgraced investment company MF Global is represented by Attorney General Eric Holder’s old firm.
The big-government wing of the financial elite remains firmly in Obama’s corner, as his bundlers (including Corzine) have already collected close to $20 million from financial interests for the president. Record support has also poured in from Silicon Valley, which has become ever more like a hip Wall Street west. Like its east-coast brethren, Silicon Valley has also increased its dependence on government policy, as well-connected venture capitalists and many in the tech community have sought to enrich themselves on the administration’s “green” energy schemes.
Romney, on the other hand, has done very well with capital tied to the energy industry, and others who invest in the broad private sector, where government interventions are more often a complication than a means to a fast buck.His broad base of financial support reflects how relatively few businesses have benefited from the current regime.
Who loses in this battle of the oligarchs? Everyone who depends on the markets to accurately give information, and to provide fundamental services, like fairly priced credit.
And who wins? The politically well-situated, who can profit from credit and regulatory policies whether those are implemented by Republicans or Democrats.
American democracy and the prosperity needed to sustain it are both diminished when Wall Street, the great engineer of the 2008 crash, is all but assured of victory in November.
This is very true. But its nothing new. Democrats and Republicans have served the wealthy since 1854 when the GOP was created (and before that for Democrats who have existed since the country’s founding). People should vote for third parties for President as there is a good amount of choices out there like Jill Stein (Green Party), Rocky Anderson (Justice Party), Stewart Alexander (Socialist Party), Peta Lindsay (Party for Socialism and Liberation), Roseanne Barr (Peace and Freedom Party), and even Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) if you are so inclined. But, direct nonviolent action is the still best approach. Howard Zinn wrote in A People’s History of the United States about World War II and noted [I bolded certain parts]:
“The difficulty of merely calling for “peace” in a world of capitalism, Fascism, Communism- dynamic ideologies, aggressive actions-troubled some pacifists. They began to speak of “revolutionary nonviolence.” A. J. Muste of the Fellowship of Reconciliation said in later years: “I was not impressed with the sentimental, easygoing pacifism of the earlier part of the century. People then felt that if they sat and talked pleasantly of peace and love, they would solve the problems of the world.” The world was in the midst of a revolution, Muste realized, and those against violence must take revolutionary action, but without violence. A movement of revolutionary pacifism would have to “make effective contacts with oppressed and minority groups such as Negroes, share-croppers, industrial workers.”
America’s involvement in the World War I did not benefit those at home or those abroad because of the Communist-like regime that ruled the country during this period that violated U.S. neutrality and going to war only for imperialistic reasons to cement our status as a world power along with helping the rich become even richer. According to A People’s History of American Empire, “World War I was a boon for U.S. goods and loans. Enormous profits tied American business interests to a British victory against Germany.” After his election in 1912, Wilson said he would support the conquest of foreign markets. This resulted in 1914 with the bombing of Veracruz to secure American investments in the country. The communist-like regime was created with the clampdown on civil liberties in many ways.
The first-ever Committee of Public Information was created to spread propaganda about the war effort and three laws were passed to control the populace like sheep. After Congress declared war, the Socialist Party of the USA angrily replied, “[the war is] a crime against the people of the United States.” Despite President Wilson’s words that we need to have a war “to end all wars” and “to make the world safe for democracy” only 73,000 people volunteered to fight in the armed services since the majority of the public opposed the war. As a result, the Espionage Act, the Conscription Act and the Sedition Act were passed in quick succession to make sure the war was not viewed as nothing by the public along with a nationwide propaganda campaign to rouse support of the war. The Espionage Act criminalized all anti-war talk, meaning that if you discouraged enlistment or opposed the war, you would be arrested. The Justice Department violated civil liberties by employing private associations to spy on those in America they deemed were disloyal, resulting in three million cases of ‘disloyalty.’ In addition, the Conscription Act was a forced draft onto the people, removing people’s free will to enter the armed forces, stripping more civil liberties. The Sedition Act made anyone who was considered ‘disloyal’ a criminal, a similar goal of the Espionage Act that is still in effect today (it may be used in the same fashion wrongly against Julian Assange of WikiLeaks). Also numerous other parts of government bureaucracy were created to expand the government’s control: Food Administration to control/conserve food, National War Labor Board to settle labor disputes, War Industries Board that encouraged companies to use mass production techniques and the Fuel Administration to conserve fuel for the war effort. This communist-like regime even seeped into the courts where Eugene Debs was sentenced to 10 years for ‘violating’ the Espionage Act and Emma Goldman was sentenced to two years for ‘violating’ the Selective Service Act.
However, the actions the U.S. committed in its foreign policy during the World War I was imperialistic in its motives. President Woodrow Wilson was trying by any way possible to find a way to quell America’s hunger for imperialism in different areas. As I said earlier about the government bureaucracy created during World War I, these parts of government were dominated by the wealthy elite who just wanted to get take more control of the economy. This was one of the driving forces of America’s involvement in World War I, which began in 1915 with the U.S. lifting the ban on private loans to the Allies at Secretary of State Robert Lansing’s urging and Treasury Secretary William McDoo’s advice accepted by Wilson that the Federal Reserve can sign bankers’ acceptances from the Allies that are just like postdated checks. As a result, even though the U.S. Congress did not declare war officially until 1917, these two actions violated U.S. neutrality and were in effect the beginning of a two-year undeclared war against the Central Powers. America began shipping manufactured war material to the Allies making its way on numerous ships including the Lusitania, justifying the German attack on the armed boat since did not have just innocent passengers on it. At one point in 1917, Germany’s civilian government asked the military to stop the unrestricted submarine warfare with U-Boats, but Field Marshal Hindenburg said that things could not get any worse than they are now. He was wrong. The United States entered this war that was all about empire (that was proved in the Treaty of Versailles) by forcing the American people to listen to them by torturing prisoners and helped the Allied Powers (Italy, Britain and France) gain a more firm foothold and sustain their empires until another World War erupted years later.
In the end, I believe that the United States of America should have never entered World War I. This war did not help end any wars. This war only led to more conflict with the failed Treaty of Versailles leading to the rise of Nazi Germany. In conclusion, as A People’s History of American Empire states clearly, “No one has been able to show that the war brought any gain for humanity that would be worth on human life.”