It is generally accepted by most on the ‘left’ that capitalism required the black slave for capital to be “kick-started”, and consequently, that the similarities in the lives of the early black slave and the white indentured servant required the creation of racial differentiation (hierarchical and racist in nature) to prevent Bacon’s Rebellion style class solidarity across racial lines from reoccurring. The capitalist class in the US has been historically successful in creating an atmosphere within the circles of radical labor that excludes solidarity with black liberation and feminist struggles. Yet, the black community historically has been at the forefront of the struggle for socialism in the US. Taking into consideration the history of dismissal, and sometimes even hostility, radical labor in the US has had towards black struggles for liberation, how could it be that the black community has stood in a vanguard position in the struggle for an emancipation that would include those whom they have been excluded by? This paper will look at two occasions in which we can see the exclusion of identity struggles from labor struggles, and answer the riddle of how white labor has been able to identify more with capitalist of their own race than with their fellow nonwhite worker. In connection to this, we will be examining three different perspectives concerning the relationship of the black community’s receptivity and active role in the struggle for socialism and the emancipation of labor.
A perfect example of this previously mentioned exclusion of identity from labor can be seen in Jacksonian radical democrats like Orestes Brownson, who although representing a radical emancipatory thought in relation to labor, failed to see how the abolitionist movement should have been included into the cause of the northern workers. Thus, his positions was (before falling into conservatism), that “we can legitimate our own right to freedom only by arguments which prove also the negro’s right to be free”. The question is the negro’s right to be free when? Although he included blacks into the general emancipatory process, he was staunchly against abolitionist as “impractical and out of step with the times”, and eventually urged northern labor to side with the southern plantation owners to counter the force of the northern industrial capitalist. What we see here with Brownson is a dismissal for the abolitionist struggle against black chattel slavery, unless it takes a secondary role to white labor’s struggle for the abolition of wage slavery. Brownson’s central flaw here is his assumption that you can free one while maintaining the other in chains, whereas the reality is that “labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded”
In the generation of American radicals that came after Brownson we see a similar dynamic between the 48’ers of the first section of the International and the utopian/feminist radicals of sections nine and twelve. This split takes place between Sorge and the German Marxist and the followers of the ‘radical’ Stephen Andrews and the spiritualist free-love feminist Victoria Woodhull. As Herreshoff states, in relation to the feminist movement of the time, “the Marxists were talking to the feminist the way Brownson had talked to the abolitionist before the Civil War.” By this what is meant is that the struggle for women’s political emancipation, was treated as a sideline issue, that should be dealt with – or automatically solved – only after labor’s emancipation. Now, it could very well be argued that the positions taken by Sorge and some of the other Marxist 48’ers was not ‘Marxist’ at all. Marx and Engels were staunch abolitionist, close followers (and writers) of the Civil War, and even pressured Lincoln greatly towards taking up the cause of emancipation; this puts them in a direct opposition to the positions taken by the northern labor radicals like Brownson. Engels also pronounced himself fully in favor of women’s suffrage as essential in the struggle for socialism. The expansion of this argument cannot be taken up here though.
The point is that racial and sexual contradictions within the working masses have played an essential function in maintaining the capitalist structures of power. While workers identify – or are coerced into identifying – workers of other races, ethnicities, or sexes as their enemy, their real enemy – their boss – is either ignored or positively identified with.
Thus, white workers can blame their wage cuts/stagnations on the undocumented immigrant. Although he does play a function in maintaining wages low, the one who sets the terms for the function the immigrant is coerced into playing is the capitalist, not the immigrant. There are countless analogies to describe this relation, my favorite perhaps is the one of the cookies. In a table you have 100 cookies, on one side of the table you have the capitalist (usually caricatured as a heavy-set fellow) with 99 cookies to eat for himself. On the other side you have a dirtied white face worker, a dirtied brown face immigrant worker, and finally, the last cookie. The capitalist leans to the white worker and tells him, “be careful, the immigrant will take your cookie”.
Here we have the general function of racial division, the motto which is “have the white worker base his identification not in the dirt on his face, but in the mythical face laying under the dirt”. This mythical face under the dirt is the symbolic link of the white worker and the white capitalist. The link of commonality is based on the illusion of the undirtied faced white worker. The dirt, of course, symbolizes the everyday conditions of his toiling existence. Even though the white worker’s everydayness is infinitely more like the immigrant’s (immigrant here is replaceable with black/women/etc.), he is coerced into consenting his identification with whom he has in common no more than one does with a bloodsucking mosquito on a hot summer’s day.
Regardless of the dismissal, and sometimes even hostility, of radical labor’s relation to other identity struggles, the black community has been in the forefront of the struggle for socialism in America. Not only have elements of the black community consistently served as the revolutionary vanguard, but the community itself has historically expressed a receptivity of socialism that is unmatched by their white working-class counterparts.
There have been a few interesting ways of explaining the phenomenon of the black community’s receptivity of socialist ideas. Edward Wilmont Blyden, sometimes called the father of Pan-Africanism, argued in his text African Life and Customs that the African community is historically communistic. Thus, there is something communistic within the ethos of the black community, that even though it has been generationally separated from its origins, maintains itself in the black experience. He states that the African community produced to satisfy the “needs of life”, held the “land and the water [as] accessible to all. Nobody is in want of either, for work, for food, or for clothing.” The African community had a “communistic or cooperative” social life, where “all work for each, and each work for all.”
The argument that a community’s spirit or ethos plays an essential role in its ability to be receptive to socialism is one that is also being analyzed with respect to the “primitive communism” of indigenous communities in South America. Most famously this is seen in Mariategui, who states:
“In Indian villages where families are grouped together that have lost the bonds of their ancestral heritage and community work, hardy and stubborn habits of cooperation and solidarity still survive that are the empirical expression of a communist spirit. The “community” is the instrument of this spirit. When expropriations and redistribution seem about to liquidate the “community,” indigenous socialism always finds a way to reject, resist, or evade this incursion.”
These arguments have been recently found by Latin American Marxist scholars like Néstor Kohan, Álvaro Garcia Linera, and Enrique Dussel, to have already been present in Marx. From the readings of Marx’s annotations of the anthropological texts of his time (specifically Kovalevsky’s), they argue that Marx began to see the revolutionary potential of the “communards” in their communistic sprit. This was a spirit that staunchly rejected capitalist individualism, leading him to believe that its clash with the expansive nature of capital, if victorious, could be an even quicker path to socialism than a proletarian revolution. Not only would the indigenous community serve as an ally of the proletariat as revolutionary agent, but the communistic spirited community is itself a revolutionary agent too.
Another way of explaining the phenomenon of a historically white radical labor movement (at least until the founding of CPUSA in 1919), and a historically radical black community, is through reference to an interview Angela Davis does from prison when asked a similar question. In this 1972 interview Angela mentions that the black community does not have the “hang ups” the majority of the white community has when they hear the word ‘communism’. She goes on to describe an encounter with a black man who tells her that although he does not know what communism is, “there must be something good about it because otherwise the man wouldn’t be coming down on you so hard.” What we have here is a sort of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. The acceptance of communism is because of the militant rejection my oppressor has towards it. Although it might seem as a ‘simplistic’ conclusion, I assure there is a profound rationality behind it. The rationality is this “if the alternative is not different enough to scare my oppressors shitless, it is not an alternative where my conditions as oppressed will change much.” This logic, simplistic as it might seem, is one the current ‘socialist’ movement in the US is in dire need of re-examining. If the alternatives one is proposing does not bring fright upon those whose heels your necks are under, then what one is proposing is no qualitative alternative at all; rather, it is merely a request to play within the parameters the ruling class gives you. The relationship of who is setting the parameters is not changed by the mere expansion of them.
Both of these ways of examining the question concerning the relationship of the black community and its acceptance of socialist ideas I believe hold quite a bit of truth to them. Regardless, I think there is one more way to answer this question. The difference is that in this new way of answering the question, we are threatened with finding the possibility of the question itself being antiquated.
The thesis I think is worth examining relates to this previous “mythical link” the white worker can establish with the white capitalist. Unlike the white worker, the black worker has not – at least historically – had the ability to identify with a black capitalist from the reflective position of his ‘undirtied’ face. This is given to the fact that the capitalist class, or even broader, the class of elites or the top 1%, has been almost homogeneously white. Thus, whereas the white worker could be manipulated into identifying with the white capitalist, the white homogeneity of the capitalist class did not have the ripe conditions for working class black folks to be manipulated in the same manner.
The question we must ask ourselves now is: in a world of a socially ‘progressive’ bourgeois class, like the one we have today, can this ‘mythic-link’ come into a position of possibly becoming a possibility? With the efforts of racial (and sexual) diversification of the top 1%, can this change the relationship of the black community to radical politics? If we accept the thesis that the link of the black community to radical politics has been a result of not being able to – unlike the white worker – have any identity commonality with their exploiter, then, can we say that in a world of a diversified bourgeois class, the radical ethos of the black community is under threat?
Is the black working mass and poor going to fall susceptible to the identity loophole capitalism creates for coercing workers into consenting against their own interest? Or will its historical radical ethos be able to challenge it, and see the black bourgeois as much of an enemy as the white bourgeois? Under a diversified bourgeois class, will Booker T. Washington style black capitalism become hegemonic in the black community? Or will the spirit still be that of Fred Hampton’s famous dictum from his Political Prisoner speech “You don’t fight fire with fire. You fight fire with water. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We’re not gonna fight capitalism with black capitalism We’re gonna fight capitalism with socialism.”? I am unsure, but I think perhaps a totally disjunction-al way of thinking about it is incorrect; as in, the disjunction will not be one the totality of the community is forced to homogeneously choose, but one which fractures the community itself without leaving any side’s perspective hegemonized.
Regardless, I think it is up to those who represent the cause of the white and non-white working mass and poor, to go these spaces and assure that masses begin to identify based on class lines (‘class’ not restrictive to the industrial proletariat, but expanded to the totality of the working masses, and beyond that to the lumpen elements whose systemic exclusion, excludes them as well from being exploited subjects of the system). Only in this ‘class’ identity approach can we achieve the unity necessary to solve not just the antagonisms of class that capitalism develops and continuously exacerbates, but also those of race, sex, and climate. This does not mean, like it meant for the 19th century labor radicals, that we exclude non-class struggles to a peripherical position where we give them importance only after the socialist revolution has triumphed. Rather, our commonality of interests in transcending the present society forces us to examine how we can work together, and in doing so, begin to acknowledge and work on the overcoming of our own contradictions with each other.
III, F. B. (2003). The Prison Slave as Hegemony's (Silent) Scandel. In Afro-Pessimism An Introduction (pp. 72).
 Brownson, O. A. “Slavery-Abolitionism.” Boston Quarterly Review, I (1838), (pp. 240).
 Herreshoff, D. American Disciples of Marx (Wayne State University Press, 1967), (pp. 39).
 Marx, K. (1967). Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production (Vol. 1). (F. Engels, Ed.) International Publishers. (pp. 301)
 “48’ers” refers to the Germans that came after the attempted revolution of 1848 (the one the Communist Manifesto was written for). Having to face persecution, many fled to the US.
 Ibid. (pp. 82).
 For more see: Marx, K. & Engels, F. The Civil War in the United States (International Publishers, 2016)
 For more see: Engels, F. The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State (International Publishers, 1975)
 Blyden, E. W. African Life and Customs (Black Classic Press, 1994) (pp. 10-11)
 Mariategui, J. C. Seven Essays of Interpretation of Peruvian Reality (1928), (pp. 68)
 Linera, A. G. (2015) Cuaderno Kovalevsky. In Karl Marx: Escritos Sobre la Comunidad Ancestral
 This is itself a message that strikes at the heart of the dogmatism of certain Marxist circles. Circles that religiously follow the early unilateral theory of history Marx’s begins proposing in The German Ideology, a view that was used to argue the revolutionary futility of these communities, and the need to ‘proletarianize’ them. This does not mean we throw out Marx’s discovery of the materialist theory of history upon which the unilateral theory of history arises; but rather, that we treat it in a truly materialist manner (as the later Marx does) and realize the ‘five steps’ to communism is materially specific to the studies Marx had done with relation to the European context. With relation to other contexts, new studies must be made through the same materialist methodology.
 This is not to be taken as a statement of the homogenous radicalism of the black community in America. The influence of Booker T Washington style of black capitalist ideology does historically have a certain influence in the black community. But, when considered in proportion to the white population, the acceptance of socialism – and its vanguard role in struggles – has been much greater in the black community.
 Marxist, Afro. (2017, June 11) Angela Davis - Why I am a Communist (1972 Interview) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGQCzP-dBvg
About the Author:
My name is Carlos and I am a Cuban-American Marxist. I graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from Loras College and am currently a graduate student and Teachers Assistant in Philosophy at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. My area of specialization is Marxist Philosophy. My current research interest is in the history of American radical thought, and examining how philosophy can play a revolutionary role . I also run the philosophy YouTube channel Tu Esquina Filosofica and organized for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020.
Cooperatives, enterprises where workers are the owners of their workplace, have always held an awkward place in the socialist movement. Proponents, such as Robert Owen, saw worker cooperatives as socialism in practice. Other socialists, such as Karl Marx criticized cooperative projects for being “utopian” in the sense that cooperative advocates sought to build a socialist society without first dismantling the existing order. Rosa Luxemburg’s critique of the cooperative movement best exemplified the thought among many Marxists,
“The workers forming a co-operative in the field of production are thus faced with the contradictory necessity of governing themselves with the utmost absolutism. They are obliged to take toward themselves the role of capitalist entrepreneur—a contradiction that accounts for the usual failure of production co-operatives which either become pure capitalist enterprises or, if the workers’ interests continue to predominate, end by dissolving.”
Mark and Luxembourg were not wrong. Take the Mondragon Corporation, which is the largest worker cooperative in the world, employing 81,507 people and generating 12 billion euros in revenue. But market pressures to maximize profits over the broader interests of the community have eroded Mondragon to adopt exploitative practices typical of a corporation. Today, only a minority of Mondragon’s workers are owners and the cooperative is infamous for suppressing labor unions in its foreign subsidiaries. As cooperatives became more profitable, the worker-owners started to lose their sense of solidarity with their fellow workers as their self-image takes on the contours of a small business owner.
Are cooperatives fated to end up like Mondragon? A growing group of organizers and academics are firmly saying “NO.” Learning from the accomplishments and failures by previous socialist experiments, these activists are confronting the assumptions that cooperatives cannot dismantle the existing institutions of oppression, are anti-political, and suppress class consciousness. But before that, let’s talk about the other and larger socialist movement that has dominated much of the 20th century.
The Social Democratic Century
Most leftists agreed with Luxembourg and instead opted to join the social democratic movement. Unlike cooperatives, social democracy was perceived as political and militant. Social democrats believed the best path to abolish capitalism was by expanding the state bureaucracy through political parties and trade unions. The legacy of the New Deal era, a period of high union density and massive expansion of government programs, seemed to have validated those beliefs. But what followed social democracy wasn’t socialism, what followed was neoliberalism, also known as a 40-year bipartisan effort to undo every aspect of the New Deal from slashing taxes for the rich, weaponizing racist dog whistles as an excuse to gut welfare, and pass massive layoffs in the industrial heartland.
In their book “Bigger than Bernie”, Jacobin contributors Meagan Day and Micah Uetricht argue that the revived socialist movement’s main priority should be to finish the New Deal. Day and Uectricht’s call to undo the last 40 years is best reflected in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) national platform, which currently consists of building a rank and file labor movement, electing democratic socialists to office, and passing Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. Though Day and Uetricht acknowledge it’s simply not enough to rebuild the welfare state. As numerous historians have pointed out, a major cause for the downfall of the social democratic era was union bureaucrat’s suppression of militant labor organizers during the 2nd Red Scare. Day and Uetricht advocate for a supposedly revised version they call “class struggle social democracy.” The basic idea is that socialists should elect social democratic politicians and agitate for a militant labor movement at the same time. The assumption is that a militant labor movement can act as a check on social democracy’s tendency “to limit the scope and substance of the reforms which it has itself proposed and implemented, in an endeavor to pacify and accommodate capitalist forces."
But organizing a militant labor movement isn’t new, it was actually the main strategy for social democrats in the 20th century. While the CIO leadership did try to contain the more radical sections of the labor movement, the labor federation still relied on militant actions to force concessions. In 1936, the United Auto Workers organized the famous Flint Sitdown Strike, even though the Wagner Act already created the National Labor Relations Court to mediate labor disputes the year before. Union bureaucrats containing more militant activists can only explain part of the decline of social democracy, a greater factor was the expansion of the professional-managerial class. A large reason why so many working-class households left the union hall for the cubicle was the level of education and experience many white-collar jobs required allowed those workers to negotiate higher wages without the need for a union. A New York Times article on Tom Harkin’s failed 1992 presidential run sums up how devastating the professionalization of America had an effect on the left,
"The audience for Harkin's message is literally and figuratively dying," says Mike McCurry, the senior communications adviser to Kerrey. "It's just not appealing to the baby boomers, the geodemographic bulge that accounted for the Republican ascendancy of the 80's and that might signal a new Democratic resurgence in the 90's. These are people with virtually no party affiliations. The imagery of Roosevelt's New Deal simply does not resonate with them."
A revived social democratic movement will only recreate this cycle of a generous welfare state expanding a professional middle class that would push for reforms that will then shrink the middle class and so on and so forth.
But can the cooperative, that utopian experiment, provide a new path towards socialism? Cooperative activists correctly point out that worker-ownership reverses the dynamics between management and labor and thereby provide a much more radical transformation than expanding government programs and trade union density. Three case studies, one historical and two that are ongoing, provide evidence that cooperatives do not inherently have to cave to market forces but can act as a catalyst for social movements, and most importantly, by allowing people to experience a life where workers can own the means of production, they can counter the pressures to assimilate back to capitalism.
The Populist Movement
The Civil War violently abolished America’s slave economy, but the war did not abolish crippling poverty for poor whites and emancipated slaves. The Civil War had accelerated America's industrial revolution. Slavery was not replaced with the Jeffersonian ideal of every man their own entrepreneur, instead, slavery was replaced with a more modern form of capitalism, the crop-lien system.
Merchants known as "the furnishing man" by white farmers and "the man" by black sharecroppers, controlled the post-war cotton industry. The furnishing men ensured that farmers were perpetually kept in poverty by forcing farmers to pay exorbitant interest rates and seizing their crops as collateral or lien. By taking crops as collateral, the furnishing man reaped the farmer’s surplus.
In response to what amounted to debt slavery, cotton farmers in the South and later corn and wheat farmers in the Midwest, organized cooperatives through the National Farmers Alliance to fight back against the crop lien system. Unlike previous cooperative societies, the populists were both confrontational and class-conscious. The populists inaugurated what Lawrence Goodwyn called, "the largest democratic mass movement in American history."
Similar to a labor union, a farmer’s cooperative was a collective of farmers that allowed them to bargain with merchants for livable prices. According to Goodwyn, America’s founding ideology of meritocracy and rugged individualism forced farmers to create an entirely separate political tradition rooted in class warfare. The Farmers Alliance accomplished this feat by instituting a circuit of traveling lecturers who sought to replace the Jeffersonian myth of the farmer as the entrepreneur with an ideology that placed farmers and wage workers as members of the “producing class” being exploited by the financial monopoly. The growing class consciousness among farmers drove the National Farmers Alliance to seek an alliance with the labor movement through the Knights of Labor. According to one anti-union newspaper, the aid that farmers were giving to the Knights of Labor was integral to the Great Southwest Strike, “but for the aid strikers are receiving from farmers alliances in the state and contributions outside, the Knights would have gone back to work long ago.”
However intense opposition by the railroad monopolies prevented the cooperatives from replacing the furnishing men, so the populists entered the political scene. In 1892, farmers formed the People's Party, the most successful third party in American history. The People's Party elected 11 governors, 35 members of the house of representatives, and six senators. But tragically, the populist movement does not have a happy ending. The People’s Party collapsed after their endorsed presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, lost to monopoly backed candidate, William McKinley. Bryan was not the populist’s first pick, he had actually refused to endorse the party’s most important demand, a radical transition of America’s monetary system from the gold standard to fiat money, a transformation we would not see until the 1970s. The populists also failed to dismantle America’s racial and regional divides, preventing the farmers from forming a strong alliance with black sharecroppers and northern industrial workers who became disorganized after the Knights of Labor dissolved. Worst of all, even after nearly two decades of fighting, the merchant and railroad monopolies were still intact, which took a huge toll on farmers’ morale. However, the remnants of the populist movement would later form the backbone for the burgeoning Socialist Party.
'“Politics without economics is symbol without substance”. This old Black Nationalist adage summarizes and defines Cooperation Jackson’s relationship to the Jackson-Kush Plan and the political aims and objectives of the New Afrikan People’s Organization and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in putting it forward.'
In the heart of the deep south, Chockwe Antar Lumumba, the socialist mayor of Jackson, Mississippi is promising to build "the most radical city on the planet." Lumumba and his father, the former mayor, also named Chockwe Lumumba, have been part of a decades-long fight to fulfill the Jackson-Kush plan, an ambitious promise to transform Jackson into a solidarity economy, a network of worker cooperatives, urban farms, and community land trusts. What may be most unique about Jackson-Kush is that it’s not rooted in the populist era cooperative movement or English mutual societies. Instead, Jackson-Kush is based on the ideology of pan-Africanism. The elder Lumumba, a veteran of the black power movement, was inspired by former Tanzanian president Julius Nyere’s theory of Ujamaa and Fannie Lou Hamer's Freedom Farms.
Activists in Jackson began the movement by organizing the "People's Assembly." Taking inspiration from previous experiments in post-Katrina New Orleans, the People’s Assembly was a mass forum for citizens to address community issues, wage strategic campaigns to leverage pressure on political and economic decision-makers, and foster a culture of direct democracy. The assembly was incredibly effective in its goals, reaching 300 members by 2010. The People’s Assemblies were more than just a mechanism for direct democracy, they were a cultural revolution. Most city governments are run like personal fiefdoms, preserved through a system of patronage and party machines. The Peoples’ Assembly flipped that model by agitating the largely black and working-class population to become active decision-makers.
The elder Chockwe channeled the politicization from the People’s Assembly towards an electoral landslide in 2013, winning the mayorship with 80 percent of the vote. Tragically, the elder Lumumba died only seven months into office. In 2014, Lumumba's son founded Cooperation Jackson, a grassroots organization committed to building a solidarity economy, which also became the base for Chockwe Antar’s successful 2017 election.
However, relations between the mayor and activists started to sour. Lumumba drained the People’s Assembly of most of their top organizers and staff, which created a rift between city hall and the grassroots. Lumumba’s actions were partly in response to Mississippi’s white supremacist state legislature maneuvering to take away Jackson’s local control, including engaging in a tense legal battle with the city government threatening to take over the Medgar Wiley Evers Airport. Cooperation Jackson, the organization Lumumba founded, has started to focus on building the Jackson-Kush plan independent of the state. Cooperation Jackson’s possible shift away from politics risks the project eroding into the same pressures as Mondragon. However, Chockwe Antar Lumumba still has a working relationship with grassroots activists and against all odds is still pushing through with his promise to turn Jackson-Kush from a dream into a reality. It is hard to tell what the future holds for Jackson, Mississippi, but one thing is clear, only through the state will there be a transition to the solidarity economy.
“We on the Left can once again set about our historic task of constructing in earnest the kind of possible future world in which we’d actually want to live.”
At the turn of the 21st century, a group of academics and activists created Democracy Collaborative to answer the criticisms that market forces will inherently erode cooperatives into a typical capitalist enterprise. Democracy Collaborative can't really be given a single label, it's a think tank, a business incubator, and a grassroots lobbying arm all-in-one. Their answer to the market pressure argument is a program they call "community wealth building." Under this framework, cooperatives are only one part of a larger economic system. The local community, through the state and NGOs, invest in worker-owned cooperatives, which are guaranteed employment through contracts with something known as "anchor institutions," businesses that are not going to be leaving the community. Most importantly, the decision-makers are not limited to the existing worker-owners but include the government, community leaders, and in some cases labor unions.
It is important to remember that power and status in Mondragon is not determined by stratified educational levels and bargaining power, but by membership into the cooperative. Under Mondragon's structure, a worker-owner on Fagor's assembly line is more privileged than a programmer who was only an employee. Mondragon's erosion back to capitalist norms was caused by worker-owners excluding the next generation of membership, mutating worker ownership from a form of economic democracy into an exclusive club. By expanding the decision-makers beyond the worker-owner, community wealth building creates a check on worker-owners potential greed.
To prove the viability of their model, Democracy Collaborative decided to test their model in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland is a textbook example of deindustrialization. Decades of neoliberalism, offshoring of manufacturing jobs, and white supremacist policy has turned Cleveland into one of the poorest cities in America. In 2010, the city government and several NGOs created the "Evergreen Cooperatives," which are three worker-owned cooperatives: Laundry, Energy Solutions, and Green City Growers. The Evergreen Cooperatives were deliberately set up in neighborhoods with a median income of $18,500, a disproportionately large undereducated workforce, and an unemployment rate of 25 percent. Evergreen also explicitly hired workers with prior felony charges. The cooperatives were guaranteed a contract with local anchor institutions, such as the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals.
Like any new business, there were some early mistakes. The cooperatives had an overambitious target of 1000 employees and the lack of financial literacy among workers forced the cooperative to adopt a more representative model of governance. However, within a decade, Evergreen has grown to more than 100 workers, 30% of whom are already worker-owners. Two out of three of the cooperatives are profitable, with Green City Growers on track to profitability. Currently, only 15% of the revenue comes from the original anchor institutions. Keep in mind, this is all inside one of the poorest and under-invested-in cities in America. Through Community Wealth Building, Democracy Collaborative reversed the neoliberal norm of cities begging for corporate contracts by cutting public services.
But Democracy Collaborative was never satisfied with merely proving there is an alternative to the status quo. During a Q and A session at Cornell College, Thomas Hanna elaborated that Evergreen is only a proof of concept, the main vision is to directly transition existing businesses and industries, from Amazon to Wall Street. Democracy Collaborative has intensely lobbied politicians, political parties, and organizers towards this program. Already the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign, the UK Labour Party, and People's Action, a million-member community organizing network, have all adopted the community wealth building framework. Community wealth building should not be seen as a “startup incubator”, but a spiritual successor to Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs vision for "the whole of all industry to represent a giant corporation in which all citizens are shareholders and the state will represent the board of directors acting for the whole people."
What the three case studies have shown us is that the answer to Luxembourg’s criticisms is not to abandon the cooperative, the answer is to integrate cooperatives into militant social movements. Each case study has directly challenged the existing order, actively engaged in the political sphere, and created an alternative analysis of the dominant narrative. The populists built agrarian cooperatives to organize a militant social movement and politicize farmers. Cooperation Jackson’s plan for a solidarity economy became the basis for a successful political campaign and created a radical vision of black self-determination. Democracy Collaborative proved that cooperatives do not have to succumb to market forces. More importantly, the three case studies are causing many leftists to question if the distinction between cooperative projects and social democracy still matters. Nationalizing key industries does not inherently contradict the cooperative’s effort to expand workplace and economic democracy, if anything they complement each other. Thomas Hanna recently published “Our Commonwealth,” where he argues for expanding public ownership through publicly owned enterprises in red states, such as the North Dakota Public Bank. Bernie Sanders' 2020 labor platform included a promise to force large corporations to divert 20 percent of their stock to an ownership fund democratically controlled by workers, itself influenced by the Meidner plan, a policy proposed by the Swedish Social Democratic Party in the 1970s. The Marxist economist, Richard Wolff, maybe right when he called cooperatives “Socialism in the 21st century.”
About the Author:
Greg Chung is a Korean-American, born in New Jersey, but lived abroad for ten years in Vietnam and South Korea. He moved back to the states in 2018 to attend college in Iowa, where he became a community organizer for Iowa Student Action and later the Cornell College chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America.
Heaven on Earth: Society, Socialism, and the Soul in Western New York (1825-1848). By: Mitchell K. JonesRead Now
Marxist scholars have often looked at religion merely as a method of social control and not as a potentially emancipatory counter-hegemonic force. Despite religious ideology’s historic use in manufacturing the consent of the exploited class, it has as often been used as a rampart against the most excessive byproducts of that exploitation. The Second Great Awakening movement in 1830s Western New York arose as a method of ruling class hegemony, but transformed into a radical movement that challenged the emergent Market Revolution. The Second Great Awakening became a catalyst for the explosion of utopian socialism after the Market Revolution’s first economic depression in 1837.
Christian spiritual leader John Humphrey Noyes argued the utopian socialist movement in 1840s America was a continuation of the Second Great Awakening and the teachings of Charles Finney. While many of the socialists of the Owenite and Fourierist periods were atheists or freethinkers, the earlier and more institutional communist societies were religious. Christian groups like the Shakers, the Zoarites and the Inspiratioists all lived communally in America before secular socialist Robert Owen first visited in 1824. Noyes believed socialism should not be separate from religion. The revivalist religious tradition inspired individuals to reform their souls. For Noyes, only religion provided sufficient “afflatus” or collective motivation to carry out the work that socialism required. He argued that two elements, spiritual enlightenment and worldly communism, were present in the early Christian church. His attempts to reconcile religious revivalism and secular socialism resulted in one of the most successful experiments in utopian socialism in North American history. His “bible communist” society at Oneida, NY lasted from 1848 to 1881. It had the most longevity of any of the North American utopian socialist experiments of the nineteenth century.
“Bible Communist” John Humphrey Noyes
Workers and the small business class often came to socialism through religion. Religiosity was a common response to the economic changes taking place in Upstate New York in the 1820s. Rochester, New York was an epicenter of economic growth driven by the Erie Canal. According to historian Carol Sheriff, “From a middle-class perspective, the Canal had become a haven for vice and immorality; the towpaths attracted workers who drank, swore, whored, and gambled…. These canallers provided a daily reminder of what fluid market relations - and progress - could bring.” By the 1830s, many Rochesterians felt the Market Revolution encouraged an increasingly sinful lifestyle. The drinking, violence, racism and misogyny characteristic of canal worker culture in Western New York had devastating effects on the workers’ health, security, safety and prospects for social mobility. Historian Peter Way argues that while working class communities offered a measure of solidarity and autonomy to canal laborers that the market did not offer in the 1820s, they just as often encouraged anti-social behavior that divided the working class, keeping them in a subjugated position. Faced with working class culture’s failure to uplift their economic station, conscientious laborers turned to the religious radicals of the business class who had both the motivation to seek a new economic system and the economic power to put such a new system into place.
Western New York became a fertile atmosphere for experimental views of society. Mobile tent revivals had already swept through the region as part of the first Great Awakening in the 1730s and 40s. By the 1820s, the Western frontier near Rochester, New York was the epicenter of the Second Great Awakening. Itinerant Methodist minister Charles Finney, who came to Rochester in 1830 on a mission to save Rochesterian souls, was the standard-bearer for the Second Great Awakening.
Methodist revival, watercolor from 1839
Perfectionism and millenarianism were key theological doctrines of the Second Great Awakening that directly influenced the emergence of utopian socialism. Christian perfectionism is the idea that humankind can achieve perfection on Earth. Millenarianism is the belief that Jesus Christ will return to earth for a second time and he will rule for a thousand years. Perfectionist millenarianism argued true servants of God must create a paradise on Earth to pave the way for the thousand-year reign of Jesus the Lord. Historian Paul Johnson writes:
The millennium would be accomplished when sober, godly men - men whose every step was guided by a living faith in Jesus - exercised power in this world. Clearly, the revival of 1831 was a turning point in the long struggle to establish that state of affairs. American Protestants knew that, and John Humphrey Noyes later recalled that, ‘In 1831 the whole orthodox church was in a state of ebullition in regard to the Millennium.’
Radical ministers John Humphrey Noyes and James Boyle were part of the Second Great Awakening movement. Boyle joined the Northampton Association, a so-called “Nothingarian” community loosely inspired by the teachings of French socialist Charles Fourier. The Northampton Association later became a wing of the New Church, an emergent religious movement based on the teachings of 18th century Swedish Lutheran mystic Emanuel Swedenborg. Noyes, originally a Congregationalist, on the other hand, formed the Oneida Community of Bible Communists in Oneida, New York. These examples make it clear that the attempt to establish a Heaven on Earth led some to believe that a radical restructuring of society was necessary and become leaders in the movement.
Most are familiar with the cliché attributed to Marx: “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Most are not aware of the whole quotation. In his seminal critique of the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Marx wrote, “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” Marx was saying that religion was a response to and a coping mechanism for the suffering of the oppressed. Religion lessened the suffering of the oppressed, but it was also a revolt against the conditions that caused such suffering. Marx argued that reason, unobscured by religious zeal, would lead to liberation. He wrote:
Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.
What was the living flower Marx was arguing those seeking liberation must pluck? Marx said it was a social reality illuminated not by religion alone, but by the earnest search for truth. Still, the fact that religion served such a unique function for the oppressed means study and critique of religion is of utmost importance. How else are those interested in the emancipation of the proletariat to understand the complex social relationships enforced and reinforced by religion?
Historian Paul E. Johnson answers that it is not enough merely to explain the social and economic conditions under which religion arose. Those who are curious about systems of control must look at the relationships religions enforce, reinforce and reproduce as social facts. In A Shopkeeper’s Millennium, Johnson’s study of Finney’s religious revival movement in Rochester, New York from 1830 to 1837, he aptly explains the material basis for the movement’s rise. However, he does not account for how the movement shifted after the 1830s. Johnson argues that control of the private morality of a newly autonomous proletariat made revivalism especially attractive to the bourgeoisie. Prior to the 1820s, workers lived with their employers. However, as they moved out of the bosses’ homes they developed autonomous lives of their own. Proletarian autonomy made the bourgeoisie nervous. Religiosity was a convenient way to maintain social control. Johnson writes from a Marxian perspective, but fails to look deeper into the meaning of Marx’s ideas on religion. He thus fails to account for the revivalist movement’s influence on utopian socialism in America, especially in Western New York. Utopian socialism offered the proletariat a radical alternative to capitalism. Whatever the roots were, revivalism contained emancipatory elements for the proletariat. It led workers to conclude that it was necessary to reorganize society in order to ameliorate social ills.
Erie Canal Aqueduct, circa 1855
Although he takes a Marxian approach, Johnson does not cite or as much as mention Marx once in the entire book. Instead, he cites sociologist Emile Durkheim as his inspiration. Early in the introduction, he invokes Durkheim’s notion of “social facts.” Johnson defines social facts as, “habits and ways of feeling that shape individual consciousness and behavior, yet exist outside the individual and coerce him independant of his will.” He emphasizes how relationships in a community create and reproduce social facts. His research is concerned with how social facts arise and how, through the reproduction of social facts, societies have collectively formed ideas about the world.
Johnson argues that religion was an elemental social fact in the nineteenth century as it was used as a form of social control. Prior to the 1820s, when Rochester’s workers mostly lived with their employers, drinking was a form of social cohesion shared between the employer and his employees under conditions the employer controlled. As capitalists favored money and privacy over paternalistic control of their workers the proletariat began to move out of the capitalists’ houses. The bourgeoisie shuddered in anxiety over the new, autonomous proletariat. Working class drinking habits made them most nervous. No longer could they control the conditions under which workers drank. Johnson argues this caused the bourgeoisie in Rochester to turn to temperance as a way to control the autonomous action of the workers. Employers’ insistence on sobriety made them likely targets for religious revivalism and in 1830 Charles Finney took advantage of this propensity among the bourgeoisie.
Johnson’s arguments contrast with sociological theorist Max Weber’s idealist conceptualization of religiosity and the growth of capitalism. While Weber insists that the spirit of the Protestant ethic initiated the growth of capitalism in America, Johnson argues capitalism revived the Protestant ethic in America. Bourgeois anxiety over a newly autonomous proletariat was the root of Finney’s revivalism. The Rochester bourgeoisie rejected the paternalistic practice of housing employees under their own roof in favor of privacy and amassing private wealth. Still, they wanted to maintain social control over the proletariat. It is easy to see why the bourgeoisie were among Charles Finney’s earliest and most enthusiastic converts.
Proletarians soon joined in as their bosses increasingly saw church attendance as an essential trait of a good worker. Religiosity thus became a vetting process for employment. Workers had an economic imperative to join in the enthusiasm of revival. They predictably did so. Workers, due to the precarity of their employment, gave in to the social pressure to join the religious revival. The bourgeoisie and the proletariat cohered in a religious community. The proletariat could feel themselves part of a devout group of elite parishioners. Finney’s ideas of cohesive community, equality of the devout under the eyes of God and the Millenarian belief in building a utopia of Christian believers on earth had emancipatory potential for workers.
Johnson misses the potential emancipatory impact of religiosity on the proletariat. Spiritual leader of the Perfectionists John Humphrey Noyes’ communist experiment at Oneida, New York is evidence that revivalism had emancipatory potential for the proletarian class. Johnson mentions Noyes only once in his account. He quotes Noyes during his discussion of Millennialism. Johnson writes:
[Charles Finney preached] Utopia would be realized on earth, and it would be made by God with the active and united collaboration of His people…. The millennium would be accomplished when sober, godly men - men whose every step was guided by a living faith in Jesus - exercised power in this world. Clearly, the revival of 1831 was a turning point in the long struggle to establish that state of affairs. American Protestants knew that, and John Humphrey Noyes later recalled that, ‘In 1831 the whole orthodox church was in a state of ebullition in regard to the Millennium.’
Christian utopianism, inspired by Millennialism, proved to be a much more advantageous daisy chain for workers than Protestant capitalism. The Millenarians believed that heavenly conditions had to be created on earth to usher in the coming thousand year reign of Christ. The workers at Noyes’ so-called “bible communist” Oneida community attempted to create such perfect conditions. They were equal in all things, the community provided for their needs, they engaged in free love and had full equality of the sexes. Noyes connected the explosion of revivalism in the “Burnt over district” (Western New York) with the later wave of utopian socialism in the “Volcanic district” (also Western New York) in his 1870 study of American Socialisms. He wrote:
And these movements—Revivalism and Socialism—opposed to each other as they may seem, and as they have been in the creeds of their partizans [sic], are closely related in their essential nature and objects, and manifestly belong together in the scheme of Providence, as they do in the history of this nation. They are to each other as inner to outer—as soul to body—as life to its surroundings. The Revivalists had for their great idea the regeneration of the soul. The great idea of the Socialists was the regeneration of society, which is the soul's environment. These ideas belong together, and are the complements of each other. Neither can be successfully embodied by men whose minds are not wide enough to accept them both.
Noyes goes on to argue that the early Christian church described in the bible book of Acts was itself a communitarian project. His attempts to reconcile religious revivalism and secular socialism were successful. The Oneida Community never collapsed like other contemporary utopian experiments. Noyes fled to Niagara Falls, Ontario to escape statutory rape charges in 1879. His teachings about complex marriage, a form of group marriage where elders collectively chose who was allowed to engage in sexual intercourse, ultimately caught the attention of a Hamilton College professor who organized a campaign against Noyes and the Community. When the Oneida Community voted in 1879 to end complex marriage they also left bible communism behind. The Oneida Community became Oneida Community Limited in 1881. To this day it is the largest supplier of silverware to the North American food service industry.
Oneida Community Mansion House
Even Marx and his comrade and writing partner Friedrich Engels acknowledged the significance of the religious utopians on the international socialist movement. In an 1844 letter, Engels wrote of the religious communities of the Shakers, Inspirationists and Harmonists, “For communism, social existence and activity based on community of goods, is not only possible but has actually already been realised in many communities in America… with the greatest success….” However, there was a flaw in American utopianism. Engels, himself the son of a factory owner, says of the utopians:
Not one of them appears as a representative of the interests of that proletariat which historical development had, in the meantime, produced. Like the French philosophers, they do not claim to emancipate a particular class to begin with, but all humanity at once. Like them, they wish to bring in the kingdom of reason and eternal justice, but this kingdom, as they see it, is as far as Heaven from Earth, from that of the French philosophers.
Representatives of the bourgeois class may not be expected to have the answers to the liberation of the proletariat. Noyes' fatal flaw was his failure to adapt his teachings to the changing attitudes within and outside the community. However, Marx said of the utopian socialists, “...the communist tendencies in America had to appear originally in this agrarian form that seemingly contradicts all communism….” Despite his flaws, Noyes may have been on to something when he attempted to reconcile religiosity and socialism. His “bible communist” society at Oneida, NY lasted from 1848 to 1881, much longer than any of the other utopian socialist experiments in North America, and unlike his socialist contemporaries, he was an industrial socialist, not an agrarian. Noyes concluded:
Doubtless the Revivalists and Socialists despise each other, and perhaps both will despise us for imagining that they can be reconciled. But we will say what we believe; and that is, that they have both failed in their attempts to bring heaven on earth, because they despised each other, and would not put their two great ideas together. The Revivalists failed for want of regeneration of society, and the Socialists failed for want of regeneration of the heart.
The success of liberation theology movements in Latin America in the 1960s and 70s, during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States in the 1950s and 60s and in Palestine to this day bear witness to the truth of Noyes’ insistence that liberation for the working class must seek both the regeneration of society and of the soul. Noyes might have agreed with Marx when he, in 1844, called religion, “the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.”
Johnson’ aptly assesses the material basis for the rise of revivalism, but fails to account for its chimeric change over time. In the final chapter he briefly mentions the rise of the African Methodist movement, to which abolitionist Frederick Douglass belonged, as connected to Finney’s revival. The African Methodist church was instrumental in building power and solidarity between black Americans that, in turn, presented a militant challenge to the Southern institution of race-based slavery. Johnson does not explain where the movement led, only how it gained strength. To be sure, Finney’s revival gained strength as a mode of social control for the bourgeoisie over a newly autonomous proletariat, but once the proletariat joined and took it over it took on a life of its own. Revivalism became a catalyst for the working class movements that swept the United States, especially Western New York, throughout the nineteenth century. Abolitionism, suffragism and utopian socialism all came out of Finney’s revival. The workers weaved living flower of truth that Marx spoke of into the daisy chain of religion creating something truly progressive and emancipatory.
 Noyes, A History of American Socialisms, 26.
 Noyes, A History of American Socialisms, 26.
 Noyes, A History of American Socialisms, 26.
 Noyes, A History of American Socialisms, 27.
 Carol Sheriff, The Artificial River: the Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817-1862, (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000), 138.
 Peter Way, “Evil Humors and Ardent Spirits: The Rough Culture of Canal Construction Laborers,” The Journal of American History 79, no. 4 (1993): 1400.
 Paul E. Johnson, A Shopkeepers Millenium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815-1837, (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), 121.
 Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850, (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), 154.
 Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium, 110.
 Christopher Clark, The Communitarian Moment: the Radical Challenge of the Northampton Association, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003), 30.
 Cross, Burned-Over District, 190-191.
 Karl Marx, “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” in Eugene Kamenka ed., The Portable Karl Marx, (New York: Penguin, 1983), 115.
 Marx, “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels on Religion, (New York: Schocken Books, 1964), 42.
 Paul E. Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, NY 1815-1837, (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), 9.
 Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium, 43.
 Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium, 81.
 Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium, 11.
 Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium, 11.
 Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium, 56.
 Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium, 60.
 Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium, 106.
 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Talcott Parsons trans., (London: Unwin University Books, 1965), 82.
 Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium, 121.
 Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium, 110.
 Charles Nordhoff, The Communistic Societies of the United States, (New York: Schocken Books, 1965), 271.
 Noyes, A History of American Socialisms, 26.
 Lester G. Wells, The Oneida Community collection in the Syracuse University Library, Syracuse University and the Oneida Community, 1961.
 Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Nelly Rumyantseva, Marx and Engels on the United States, (Moscow: Progress, 1979), 33.
 Frederick Engles, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, trans. Edward Aveling, (New York: International Publishers, 1935), 32.
 Karl Marx, Marx on America and the Civil War, (New York: Saul K. Padover, 1972), 5.
 Constance L. Hays, “Why the Keepers of Oneida Don't Care to Share the Table,” The New York Times, June 20, 1999.
 Noyes, A History of American Socialisms, 27.
 Karl Marx, “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” in Eugene Kamenka ed., The Portable Karl Marx, (New York: Penguin, 1983), 115.
 Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium, 117.
About the Author:
Mitchell K. Jones is a historian and activist from Rochester, NY. He has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a master’s degree in history from the College at Brockport, State University of New York. He has written on utopian socialism in the antebellum United States. His research interests include early America, communal societies, antebellum reform movements, religious sects, working class institutions, labor history, abolitionism and the American Civil War. His master’s thesis, entitled “Hunting for Harmony: The Skaneateles Community and Communitism in Upstate New York: 1825-1853” examines the radical abolitionist John Anderson Collins and his utopian project in Upstate New York. Jones is a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
In late August of 1921, a militia made up of unionized West-Virginia coalminers began armed conflict with a private police force paid for by the wealthy mine owners who controlled the region’s politics. It ultimately became the largest labor uprising in United States history and the largest armed insurrection other than the Civil War. This was the Battle of Blair Mountain and it was the culmination of decades of labor struggles in Appalachia which boiled over into armed conflict on many occasions. Here I will provide a short history of the battle as well as the historical context that led to it.
Like much of the rest of the U.S., Wester Virginia was largely composed of small, self-sufficient farms. Unfortunately for these farmers, they chose land on top of valuable coal deposits, and as American industrialization took off in the mid-19th century, so did its demand for natural resources to fuel it, making coal a valuable commodity. Thus, industrialists swarmed the hills of Appalachia gobbling up land by contesting deeds and using various other underhanded tactics to push poor families off their land. These newly landless masses would form the industrial proletariat which provided the labor power for the rapidly growing coal operators.
As the coal mines popped up so did the “Company Towns”. Ostensibly meant to provide services for the workers of these remote mines, company towns were actually the private fiefdoms of coal operators. The entirety of the town, from the homes to the schools, were owned by the company, with workers being paid in “company scrip”- pieces of paper only redeemable at the “company store”. These were stores owned by the company where low-quality products were sold at inflated prices. Of course, this was not the only way the miners were fleeced. Coal operators utilized rigged scales, oversized containers, and various other methods to ensure miners did not receive the full wages they were owed for the coal they harvested. And, since housing was owned by the company, evictions happened on the whim of the owner. This hellscape was completed with private police to enforce these rules and discourage even the whisper of a union.
These conditions engendered plenty of resistance. Strikes occurred frequently in this period with many of them breaking out into violence. This is exactly what happened when the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike turned into open armed conflict. In 1912 miners associated with the United Mine Workers of America, District 17, went on strike demanding higher wages and recognition of their union, along with an end to mine guards, blacklisting, and restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly. Coal operators responded quickly, calling in hundreds of detectives from the private agency, Baldwin-Felts, to evict and intimidate workers. Additionally, coal operators imported “scabs” to replace the striking workers.
When miners were evicted, they set up tent colonies throughout the area. On February 7, 1913, the mine owners used an armored train outfitted with machine guns to open fire on one of these tent colonies in Holly Grove, fortunately only killing one miner. In response, the miners swiftly armed themselves and began engaging in guerilla warfare, ambushing mine guards near Holly Grove killing at least 12. When the violence failed to subside, West Virginia’s Governor, William Glasscock, declared martial law in the district three separate times, arresting over 200 miners and their allies including an 86-year-old Mother Jones, who had helped organize the strike. Over 100 of these people were court-martialed and sentenced to prison terms, but most of them were released by West Virginia’s next governor Henry D. Hatfield, although he kept the most radical strikers imprisoned. Hatfield followed this by imposing a settlement on the strike and closing socialist newspapers. While the settlement did not solve the underlying issues in the area, the conflict would have to be put on hold with the outbreak of World War I when many of the miners were drafted and new war-time restrictions were placed on unions.
After fighting in the most brutal war in history up to that point, the miners returned to a post-war slump, meaning lower wages and inconsistent work- not to mention the fact that war-time restrictions on union activity remained in effect. In 1920 the UMWA began an organizing drive in the southwestern part of the state that would last 28 months and include the Battle of the Blair Mountain. The drive began, and was relatively successful, in Mingo County where many towns, such as the small town of Matewan, had managed to remain free from company domination. Coal operators responded by locking miners out of the mines and beginning eviction proceedings. On May 19, 1920, Baldwin-Felts agents hired by coal operators began evicting families in Matewan. This was brought to a halt by the pro-union sheriff of Matewan, Sid Hatfield, who questioned the legality of the evictions and ordered the agents to leave town. However, before the agents could leave, Matewan mayor, Cabell Cornelius Testerman, issued an arrest warrant for the Baldwin-Felts agents for violating a city ordinance for carrying weapons. When Sheriff Hatfield confronted the agents with the warrant, they claimed they also had a warrant for Hatfield’s arrest, although they refused to produce it. Once Mayor Testerman was notified, he sent word that he would pay bond for Hatfield, but the agents claimed no bond would be accepted. Testerman then arrived on the scene, demanding to see the agents’ warrant which they produced. Testerman immediately declared the warrant to be a fake, leading to a shootout in between the agents and townspeople killing 7 Baldwin-Felts agents and 3 townspeople, including Mayor Testerman.
In the following months, clashes between the miners and police forces were frequent with miners engaging in acts of sabotage and ambushes of police agents. The police forces responded by attacking miners and shooting up tent villages. Martial law was declared three separate times with violence erupting again immediately after troops left. Finally, in the Spring of 1921, the governor instituted a draconian martial law heavily biased against the miners. In August of 1921, Sid Hatfield was summoned to McDowell county to answer charges for blowing up a coal tipple in the Spring. As Sid and his friend, Ed Chambers, walked up the courthouse steps, they were gunned down be Baldwin-Felts agents. Both men were unarmed.
This was the final straw for many mining communities in neighboring Logan County, who began agitating and organizing into armed patrols. Logan County was a coal operator stronghold, under the dominion of notorious anti-union sheriff, Don Chafin. In fact, upon his election, Chafin was given stock in coal companies amounting to between $700,000 to $840,000 in today’s money. Logan county is split in two from north to south by the barrier of the Spruce Fork Ridge, which includes Blair Mountain. At the time, the western portion of the county was controlled by Don Chafin, while the eastern portion was a union stronghold. As miners began mobilizing, Chafin sent police to the town of Clothier where they arrested and assaulted a minor. The miners responded by ambushing and harassing several troopers before allowing them to leave. Miners began gathering at the state capitol of Charleston where they determined to go to Mingo to break the harsh martial law. Before miners could begin their march, U.S. President Harding sent Brigadier General Harry Bandholtz who negotiated a peace with representatives from the UMWA. Miners in Charleston decided to call of the march and return home. However, in miners in the Spruce River Valley shut down mines and fortified their locations, while miners in Clothier commandeered a train and began shuttling miners to Blair. Things remained peaceful until August 27, when Sheriff Chafin dispatched a force of over 300 police and detectives to Clothier to arrest the miners who had previously harassed his troopers. When they arrived in Clothier, they were confronted by a group of miners leading to a shootout where three miners were killed and three were arrested. This enraged miners who had begun returning home, leading them to regather and continue the march to Mingo.
Full open conflict began on August 31, with an estimated 10,000 miners attempting to march to Mingo and 3,000 police agents- mostly from Baldwin-Felts- seeking to stop the march from defensive positions fortified with machine guns. Being veterans of the First World War, the miners were a formidable force waging a highly coordinated and disciplined campaign. On September 1, Chafin even resorted to contracting private planes to drop bombs on the miners, although these bombings were largely ineffective. This open conflict and the possibility that miners might break through Chafin’s defensive positions instigated federal intervention. 2,100 federal troops were dispatched to the area and by September 4th fighting had ended, with an estimated death toll of 100 people. Miners had initially hoped the government would side with them but that was not to be. After the battle, 980 miners were arrested mainly for charges of treason and/or murder. While most of the farmers were acquitted, the legal fees incurred devastated the union, leaving it financially destitute for years to come.
With this, the saga of Blair Mountain came to a close, with the UMWA decimated and the cola operators victorious. Despite their hopes that the Federal government would side with them, - especially given the veteran status of many of the miners- the government came down firmly on the side of the coal operators. This episode is just another instance revealing the role of the Bourgeois state: to protect capital from the demands of labor. The rights the miners were demanding would not be granted for another decade when the Roosevelt Administration adopted them as part of New Deal legislation. Although the miners failed in their immediate aims, they did manage to strike fear in the hearts of capitalists and gained national attention, setting a precedent for the limits to which workers can be pushed before they strike back.
 Nida, B. Demystifying the Hidden Hand: Capital and the State at Blair Mountain. Hist Arch 47, 53–54 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03376908
 Richman, S. (2018, March 21). Company Towns Are Still with Us. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from https://prospect.org/economy/company-towns-still-us/
 Paul J. Nyden (Mar 01, 2007) Topics: Movements. “Rank-and-File Rebellions in the Coalfields, 1964-80.” Monthly Review, June 30, 2014. https://monthlyreview.org/2007/03/01/rank-and-file-rebellions-in-the-coalfields-1964-80/.
 Nida, B. Demystifying the Hidden Hand: Capital and the State at Blair Mountain. Hist Arch 47, 55–56 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03376908
 “Share Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike.” encyclopedia. Accessed October 22, 2020. https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1798.
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 “Sid Hatfield Shot Dead.” Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. Accessed October 22, 2020. https://www.coloradohistoricnewspapers.org/?a=d.
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 Nida, B., and Adkins, M. J. (2011). The social and environmental upheaval of Blair Mountain: A working class struggle for unionization and historic preservation. In Smith, L., and Shackel, P. (eds.), Heritage, Labour, and the Working Classes, Routledge, London, pp. 52–68.
 Jansen-Montoya, Isaac. "The Battle of Blair Mountain."
 "AIR FLEET ORDERED TO W. VA. BATTLEFIELD." Washington Times [Washington D.C]. Library of Congress, chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026749/1921-09-01/ed-1/seq-1/.
About the Author:
I'm Alex Zambito. I'm born and raised in Savannah, GA. I graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2017 with a degree in History and Sociology. I am currently seeking a Masters in History at Brooklyn College. My Interest include the history of Socialist experiments and proletarian struggles across the world.
“A radical is no more than this: he who goes to the roots. Let him who fails to arrive at the bottom of things call himself not a radical; nor let him who fails to help other men obtain security and happiness call himself a man.”- Jose Marti 
The word radical is one that is thrown out very loosely by both ruling class parties in the US. When the democratic primary was taking place, self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders was hailed as too radical by the democratic establishment. Now that the race is between Trump and Biden, the republicans are pushing the narrative that Biden and those involved in his campaign are radical leftists. In this work we will examine what it means to be a radical and what relation does radicalism have to extremism and socialism.
Instead of going straight into what radicalism is, let us examine it through what it is not. The reasons for talking about what it is not should be obvious given the previous example of its usage in categorizing two dramatically different candidates as radical. In the US, radicalism becomes pejoratively synonymous with extremism and socialism; this is part of the general trend of linguistic kidnapping of concepts to be manipulated for the interest of our ruling class (one can throw democracy, freedom, etc. in here too).
Racialism and Extremism
In the US you will hear the interchangeability of radical Islam and Islamic extremism. As if radicalism and extremism meant the same thing. The reality is that both in practice and by definition this is false. In practice, the radicals in countries that are primarily Muslims are not the ones terrorizing innocent people or planning horrendous attacks. Rather the radicals are the ones that get at the root of the problem in the middle east. They are the ones who realize that America’s destabilization of the area, for economic and political ends, has been what has caused the rise in Islamic fundamentalism. And if they are militant radicals, their goal is to not only fight off imperialism, but also fight off the monster it created in Islamic extremism. Here we see that the radical is the one that would fight not only against the root of the problem, but also the extremism that root created. Thus, any synonymous usage of radicalism and extremism in practice holds to false given the tensions and struggle of one against the other.
If we analyze what extremism and radicalism mean by definition, we also notice that one has nothing to do with the other. Extremism implies the positioning of oneself at a pole. This means going to the extreme ends of the given totality, while not inherently threatening to substantially change it. For example, Islamic extremism, regardless of how out of the current totality it presents itself as, still functions within the existing structures of global capitalism. The social atmosphere might be different, but we can see in countries like Saudi Arabia that capitalism is not threatened by their Islamic ideology. On the contrary, it seems to be that this Islamic extremism fits nicely within the global system as the evil boogie man the US uses to fight imperialist wars. This does not mean that fighting terrorism is wrong, on the contrary; rather that the terrorism of Islamic extremism is a profitable ideological tool for the US to expand its material and ideological hegemonic power.
We can also look at white nationalist extremism, both historically and in the present. The Nazi’s held extremist and barbaric positions. But they did not present an essential threat to the existing order; rather they were themselves capitalist. The rising trends of white nationalism and far right extremism in the US is another perfect example of this. This trend is one which does not seek to overthrow the essential conditions holding society together, but to go to the extremes of what is possible within that society. This extreme is in our case a reactionary return to a more militant racism rather than the more obscure and gray area one we generally find today.
The general trend we find in extremism, whether in the example of Islam or white nationalism, is the inability to be fully radical. This means that they always fall short in their analysis of the problem, and thus, their inability to see the real source of the problem provides the framework for the wrong solution. The Islamic extremist falls short in seeing that their condition is not a result of Americans per say, but of America’s foreign policy; the same one that uses and manipulates Americans to go fight wars in which they either die or return drastically damaged physically, mentally, or both for the sake of the enrichment of the already ridiculously wealthy. The white extremists fall short in realizing that the polarization of wealth and loss of jobs over the last 50 years in the US is not a result of immigrants, blacks, or people of color; rather it is the result of capitalism, specifically in its neoliberal form, which has shipped manufacturing jobs overseas to profit of cheap labor while systematically dismantling the power workers had through their unions and collective bargaining efforts. In both cases what we find is the inability to see the real source of the problem. This is a mistake which leads to the barbarity of the positions taken. These are essentially positions which end up attacking fellow exploited people while letting the common exploiter off the hook. It is a position of weakness because it deviates the blame from the powerful to the powerless. It prefers the easier and mystical opponent, rather than the real and potent one.
Radicalism, on the contrary, is measured by its ability to see the real source of the problem. This means that radicalism is not a fixed position. It is not a position in which the same stance is deemed radical in all places at all times. For example, the bourgeois writers of the 17th and 18th century were pretty radical for their time. The John Locke-s and Rousseau-s, although representing different currents of liberalism, both were radicals because they were able to get at the root of their times, and propose alternatives based on a substantial differentiation of their epoch. Locke introduces the right to revolution which is central to the American experiment, and Rousseau the rights of humanity which are central to the French revolution of 1789. Today, both of their positions are either mainstream of have already been surpassed. No one would claim that Locke’s views on property hold their radicalness today. Although one might say that Rousseau’s writings or Locke’s right to revolution still might be radical. The point is that radicalism is based on historical context; sometimes the roots of that historical context remain essentially the same, and thus the radical approach of 300 years ago remains radical. But with the changing of the roots comes the loss of the radicalness of the previous radicalism. Although, given that new roots are not born in a vacuum, but are a result of a specific historical context, it could very well be that an attack to the old roots might still partially reach the new roots, given the new roots retain elements of the past roots.
Biden the Radical
Before we talk about radicalism and socialism, I think it would be fair to address a point made at the beginning of the work. This point is the Trump campaign’s labeling of Joe Biden as a radical leftist. I don’t think much really needs to be said here, given that anyone who could see two fingers in front of them realizes the stupidity of these allegations. But for the sake of not leaving any arguments unanswered, I feel obliged to comment at least a sentence or two on this. To label Joe Biden as a radical is an insult to stupidity itself. Joe Biden represents the reactionary move towards a pre-Trump America. This move is perhaps the antithesis of radicalism, as not only does it not strive to destroy the roots of the problem which led to the Trump symptom, but it seeks actively to empower those roots even more. In essence, it does not seek to change the conditions which allowed an imbecile like Trump to arise, but rather to retain them without their Trump-effect. It wants to eliminate the cold sweats by returning to the fever. Without realizing that not only does the cold sweat represent essentially a continuation of the fever, but the fever itself is what led to the cold sweats.
Radicalism and Socialism
Having now dismissed these allegations of Biden as a radical, let us question the relation of socialism and radicalism. As we already previously mentioned, radicalism consist of being able to not only reach the root of the problem, but actively try to change the situation through an attack directly aimed at the roots. Radicalism is not in any sense a passive exercise. This means that radicalism cannot just seek to interpret the roots of the problem. Radicalism implies praxis. It implies an active struggle to change the conditions of what is, through the awareness and attack of the roots of what is. Radicalism is at the heart of the philosophy of praxis; the type of philosophy that Marx described as not only interpreting the world but actively trying to change it.
Thus, what is the relationship of radicalism to socialism? On the topic of radicalism, Marx states that:
“To be radical is to grasp things by the root. But for man the root is man himself”
The first part we have already established. This root essentially means getting at the foundational essence of the object of examination. It means getting at that which serves as the first cause of all things experienced in a totality. For Marxist, this is the level of how things are made. It is the level of production. Thus, the root is always the economic structure of the time. The second part of the quote serves to affirm that this root is always based on relations between human beings. The root is not in the divine, it is in the way human beings interact with each other in the process of making their means of subsistence.
Thus, we see here that radicalism is necessarily based on spatial-temporal contexts. What was considered radical in 14th century Germany is not considered radical in today’s Germany. What is considered radical right now in the US is not considered radical in China. For example, the policies Bernie’s platform was calling for, although not radical anywhere else in the developed world, in a country where even the basic necessities of life are privatized, calling for the removal of the profit motive in education or healthcare is radical. It gets, at least partially, at the root of the extent to which privatization has reached in the US. But the same proposals that Bernie made would not at all have been radical in the UK, where they have a national health system. On the contrary, over there, single payer health care represents a step back. Bernie’s policy to make public colleges and universities tuition free is radical in the US, given the debt higher education forces everyone in; but this policy in Germany would not be radical given they already have higher education basically for free.
Thus, does radicalism mean socialism? The answer is clearly no. A radical in one moment might not be a radical in another, even if he does not change any of his views. For example, in the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte Marx lays out how the first coalition was made by the different classes in France to overthrew the aristocracy and establish the republic; but how in 1848, when the proletariat rises to expand the republic to a democratic (socialist) one, the allies who helped overthrow the aristocracy join to suppress the proletarian uprising. What we see here is the contextual basis of radicalism. When one is in what is essentially a monarchy, the struggle for a bourgeois republic is a radical fight. It seeks to transform the roots of society. But the section of radicals who now have the power in the bourgeois republic no longer stand as radical. Now (1848) they are the conservatory force fighting to maintain the existing order from the threat of a proletarian revolution.
This forces us to make two important distinctions in the type of subjects that embody radicalism. The first is the contextual radical. The contextual radical is the person or group that is radical only in their epoch. This is the example of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeois class, in its struggle against the feudal order represented a radical subject. Once the new order established was the one their class benefited from, they no longer stand as a radical force, but rather as a conservatory one. One which seeks not to transcend the roots of the existing structure, but to preserve them.
The other form of radicalism I call consistent radicalism. Consistent radicalism is the subject which is constantly attacking the roots of the existing order for the sake of the progression of history. It is the subject which fought with the bourgeois against the aristocracy but did not conservatize when the bourgeois class achieved power. Rather, now they fought with the new revolutionary proletariat in order to radically transform the existing order of capitalism.
Thus, as has been already implied, in our epoch to be radical amounts to being a socialist. The contextual radical is the one whose end is the transcendence of capitalism and the establishment of socialism. In this context, the socialist is the contextual radical, in the same way the bourgeois was the contextual radical in the feudal order. The communist on the other hand, stands as the consistent radical. The one’s whose end is not merely in socialism, but who seeks to actively be the agent which stands in the side of the progression of history.
Marx speaks of communism in various different ways. The main way is as the society in which the class structure is eliminated, the state has withered away, and the relations of society are guided by the principle of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. But Marx also speaks of communism in terms of the communist subject. In The German Ideology Marx states that:
“Communism is not for us a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.”
Thus, communism, the communist subject, here stands as the consistent radical. He who is not concerned with the state of affairs as an end in itself, but who moves towards the progressive abolishment of every existing totality. The communist is the person who in every societal structure that experiences injustice fights for the elimination and transcendence of that injustice; and does so through accessing the roots of that injustice. This does not mean that the communist is the one calling for the overthrow of existing socialist states, but rather the one which gets at the roots of the present problems and fights against them. This means a fight against the pressure of imperialism on socialist states and against the own tendencies of corruption that the hardships of defending a revolution from imperialism might encourage within socialist countries.
In conclusion, we have been able to define and distinguish radicalism from extremism and socialism. In doing so we were able to distinguish between two forms of radicalism, contextual radicalism, and consistent radicalism. Finally, thanks to this differentiation of radicalism, we were able to establish the relationship between radicalism, socialism, and communism. Our conclusions where that in our epoch, both forms of radicalism must be socialist. In order to understand and attack the roots of the problem, one must necessarily fight capitalism. But we uncovered that the socialist is the one that remains tied to contextual radicalism. His end is merely the destruction of the present root. Although the communist also strives for the transcendence of capitalism (the present root), his end is not there. The communist stands as a consistent radical; someone who in all moments fights to improve the structures humanity has provided for itself through an approach that focuses on the root of the problem, on the first causes, not on the effects.
 Liss, Sheldon. Roots of Revolution: Radical Thought in Cuba. (Nebraska Press, 1987), p. xiii.
 “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”
Marx, Karl. “Thesis on Feuerbach” The Marx & Engels Reader. (W. W. Norton & Company, 1978/1845), p.143.
 Marx, Karl. “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction” The Marx & Engels Reader. (W. W. Norton & Company, 1978/1844), p. 60.
 Marx, Karl. “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” The Communist Manifesto and Other Writings (Barnes & Nobles Classics, 2005/1852), p. 70)
 Marx, Karl. “Critique of the Gotha Program” The Marx & Engels Reader (W. W. Norton & Company, 1978/1875), p. 531.
 Marx, Karl. The German Ideology (International Publishers, 1993/1932), p. 56-57.
Socialism with American characteristics almost sounds like an oxymoron. After a century of red scares and anti-socialist propaganda we have come to equate everything American with capitalism and the cheap sense of liberty, freedom, and democracy it provides. How can we talk about “American characteristics” and socialism in the same sentence? How can one talk about socialism in a country founded on the genocide of the native and the enslavement of the African? How can one talk about socialism in a country with close to 1000 military bases around the world? How can we talk about socialism in a country in which the last 100 years of its existence has dedicated itself to the imperial exploitation of the global south and middle east, of brown and black folks around the world? Finally, how can we talk about socialism in a country who has dedicated the last century to ensuring all struggles for socialism fail?
Although all of these questions are fair, I will attempt to formulate how it is that we can talk about socialism in the US. The first thing to realize is the distinction between promoting socialism in the US and promoting American Socialism. The first route is fruitless. This route consists of attempting to use socialist icons from abroad in our struggles. This will do nothing but alienate the revolutionary agent in America. Of course, we should read the theory of these folks and see how they correspond to our reality. We should read our Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Lukacs, etc. Their writings are extremely relevant in our world today. The point is, you are not going to get an American worker to join the struggle if your party meeting is filled with portraits of Mao, Che, or Lenin; given that socialism has been propagandized for a century as the antithesis of American values, as something strange and foreign. The usage of these aesthetic symbols will only reinforce that and be tactically detrimental to our cause.
The second option, which I call American socialism or socialism with American characteristics, is the route I believe will best guarantee success in our revolutionary recruitment. This route, in order to be traveled, requires a philosophical lens. A philosophical lens analyzes the structures of concepts, questions, and problem formulations in a given totality, and then with a holistic understanding deconstructs the present arena of discourse. This means it re-defines concepts and creates new ones. Philosophy deconstructs and then reconstructs how we speak about what is. To say we must analyze the question of socialism with American characteristics philosophically means that we must deconstruct the structure of the current discourse to then reconstruct it according to the truth we have uncovered.
Regarding the question of American socialism, the truth which has been hidden is that America has two different histories. The first is the history of America as the exploitative, imperial, corrupt, racist, elitist country we are all familiar with. The other history of America is the one we must base ourselves on. This other history is the one that has had a tradition of consistent struggle against the actions of its other history. In this sense, America presents itself as an exemplar of a dialectical unity; the history of its unity has been nothing more than the history of the struggle of the two Americas. The one which fights for the oppressed, and the one which is the oppressor.
To fight for socialism with American characteristics is to have fidelity to the America that has spent the last 300 years fighting against oppression. It is to have fidelity to the project that envisioned the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all. It is to be faithful to the tradition of men and women, black and white, who from the very early days of the founding of the American project where aware that the revolution was not finished! That a democratic republic was nothing if we did not expand its benefits to everyone in all spheres of society. This is the tradition of Americans who not only saw something inherently wrong with chattel slavery, but who also realized its wage successor also presented an enslavement to the will of the capitalist. This is the tradition of Americans who fought against any ideologically imperialistic conception of American exceptionalism, who argued that we are all equal in God’s eyes, at a moment when the Indian was still seen as a savage. This tradition of American radicalism has been hidden from us. Our history books talk a lot about the Rockefellers, the Morgan-s, and the Carnegie-s, but not about the Roger Williams, the Thomas Paine-s, the Orestes Brownson-s and the many more who fought for the ideals of the revolution to be materialized in their most inclusive and expansive formulations. To talk about socialism with American characteristics means the embracement of the long and militant tradition of Americans fighting for the empowerment of labor against capital, of people over profit.
Tactically there have been countless different approaches. We have had a rich tradition of anarchist syndicalism, republican radicalism, utopian socialism, Christian socialism, and in the 20th century Marxism-Leninism and Maoism. Our history of fighting against injustice is rich and eclectic. This is the history we must base ourselves in. The figures who participated in these movements are the ones we must use in our struggles because they are the ones that Americans can identify with. The embracement of this radical history will break the propagandized stupidity of socialism being anti-American and demonstrate that socialism is as American as apple pie!
This is the socialism Midwestern Marx seeks to promote to the American public. It is not a socialism that we created or imported, rather one we seek to dig out of the obscurantism of the American memory and bring back to light.
Becoming a Leftist of any kind in the United States comes with the realization that you are living in the heart of the world’s largest empire. Following World War 2 the United States found themselves as the world’s largest economic superpower, with only the USSR as direct competition. Following the USSR’s collapse in 1991 the United States have had near free reign to use neocolonial tactics in order to maintain economic global supremacy. However, patriotism and nationalism in some form have been essential in every successful socialist movement. Anti-colonial socialist movements such as Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh have rallied behind nationalist ideals such as self-determination, and economic self-sufficiency. Given that Nationalism has been so important to socialist movements of the past, it is worth analyzing how it can be used to help the class struggle within the United States. Simultaneously we must consider how to prevent our national pride from morphing into racism, or what Lenin referred to during the Russian revolution as Social Chauvinism.
As one begins to study the history of United States foreign policy, it is natural to become angry and spiteful towards the country. Personally, I remember how my blood began to boil when I learned that the country I grew up in dropped 635,000 tons of bombs, and 32,557 tons of napalm on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Bombs which Air Force General Curtis LeMay estimated killed 20% of the North Korean Population. Learning about this war I was faced with the stark realization that my entire life I had been taught to both hate and fear the North Korean people, while never being told that my country had massacred a fifth of their population.
The Korean War is just one example of the brutal history of US imperialism. Studying the Vietnam War, US involvement in the Cambodian Civil War, or the invasion of Iraq can all be catalysts for US leftists to begin hating their own country. Not to mention the long list of CIA coups such as the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile, which installed the notoriously brutal Pinochet regime, all in the name of maintaining corporate control of Chilean natural resources. The more one learns about the brutal history of US Imperialism, the easier it becomes to develop hatred for the US, even if it is the country you call home.
I will never argue that pointing out the truths of Imperialism is a bad thing. If imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, then anti-imperialism is also the highest stage of class struggle. However, I would make the argument that displays of hatred towards the US are counterproductive to the anti-imperialist struggle. Take the example of flag burning. While it is somewhat understandable that after reading about the mass civilian massacres perpetrated by the US in Vietnam that someone would want to burn a flag out of pure rage, the act is simply counterproductive to the overall movement. An abstract discussion of whether burning the flag is morally correct or not at this point is useless. In the real world flag burnings are used as fuel for Fox News talking heads to scare their audience into believing the left is hateful and unhinged. The goal of our movement is to organize the working class, and there are very few working class Americans who are going to identify with an organization whose members are burning the American flag. Whether you believe flag burning is justified or not is irrelevant. The material reality is that it will only serve to further alienate the working class from our movement, especially in the Midwestern United States.
Despite the atrocities of imperialism, there is still much for citizens of the United States to be proud of. The US has a long history of strong labor movements who made huge gains for American Workers. Leaders such as George Meany, known as the father of the AFL-CIO, who helped to elect FDR, and pushed him towards the pro worker policies which helped pull the country from the great depression. Americans should feel pride when learning about Mother Jones, the barely 5-foot-tall female labor leader who fought tirelessly on behalf of miners in the early 1900s. Mother Jones fiercely advocated for African Americans and women to join the labor movements fight. These are historical figures who often go overlooked by the American education system but should serve as a source of pride for anyone fighting for workers in the class struggle today.
American’s should also take pride in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. The revolutionary war was a fight against colonialism, which helped America move beyond the feudal mode of production into capitalism. When celebrating this event on the 4th of July, many leftists will mock those who celebrate the freedom which this day stands for. It is easy to understand the sentiment, given that in modern day the US war machine has become the oppressor of many other nations. However, the Revolutionary War should be celebrated, and on the 4th of July we should be encouraging the country to hold up to the lofty ideals which it was founded on. We should bring people together around the common cause of making our country truly great, rather than endlessly shaming and alienating those who choose to celebrate the day our country gained freedom from the British.
Similarly, the Civil War should be a source of pride for any person who truly cares about workers. Abraham Lincoln was pen pals with Karl Marx and stated at a Congressional session “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” Abraham Lincoln was a friend of workers and should be celebrated today for his role in freeing the slaves. The Civil War can be viewed as a second revolutionary war of sorts, which changed social relations for millions of slaves, as well as white sharecroppers. Black slaves were freed from the horrendous conditions of slavery. In addition, white sharecroppers no longer had to sell their labor in competition with slaves, who were paid nothing, and worked to death. Americans should take pride in the Union Soldiers who fought to destroy the Confederacy, which only existed to serve the rich plantation owners.
The Vietnamese hero Ho Chi Minh often read the Declaration of Independence and encouraged Americans to live up to the standards they had set for themselves. The rampant imperialism and dismantling of organized labor by the American ruling class, spits in the face of everything this country was founded on. We need not disparage our own country, but rather encourage our nation to live up to the ideals it was founded on. Providing all workers with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
 Mehdi Hasan, “Why Do North Koreans Hate Us? One Reason - They Remember the Korean War.,” The Intercept, May 3, 2017, https://theintercept.com/2017/05/03/why-do-north-koreans-hate-us-one-reason-they-remember-the-korean-war/.
 Adam Bensaid, “The Secret History of US Interventions in Latin America,” The secret history of US interventions in Latin America (TRT World, December 26, 2019), https://www.trtworld.com/americas/the-secret-history-of-us-interventions-in-latin-america-23586.