[Marxism] Young America

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 31 07:14:25 MDT 2006


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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