As socialism spread around the globe during the twentieth century it adapted itself to the history and culture of each nation. Evolutionary socialism developed differently than Revolutionary socialism. Socialism in most western nations resembled what Marx referred to as bourgeois socialism rather than the revolu-tionary kind advocated by Marx and Engel in the Communist Manifesto.
“A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances, in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society.” “To this section belong economists, phil-anthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working class, organizers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, hole-and-corner reformers of every imaginable kind. This form of Socialism has, moreover, been worked out into complete systems…” “…The Socialistic bourgeois want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat. The bourgeoisie naturally conceives the world in which it is supreme to be the best; and bourgeois Socialism develops this comfortable conception into various more or less complete systems.” (Communist Manifesto)
They all, however, maintain the hallmarks of socialism; redistribution of wealth and the limitation or destruction of private property rights as they affect the creation of wealth. Prior to the Civil War, socialism in America existed mostly in the utopian communes which Marx attributed to the undeveloped nature of the proletariat.
"… these attempts necessarily failed, owing to the then undeveloped state of the proletariat, … …The revolutionary literature that accompanied these first movements of the proletariat had necessarily a reactionary character. It inculcated universal asceticism and social leveling in its crudest form.” “The Socialist and Communist systems properly so called, those of Saint-Simon, Fourier, Owen and others, spring into existence in the early undeveloped period, described above….” “The undeveloped state of the class struggle, as well as their own surroundings, causes Socialists of this kind to consider themselves far superior to all class antagonisms. …. For how can people, when once they understand their system, fail to see in it the best possible plan of the best possible state of society?” …they wish to attain their ends by peaceful means, and Endeavour, by small experiments, necessarily doomed to failure, and by the force of example, to pave the way for the new social Gospel.” (Communist Manifesto)
Following the War, especially during the Gilded Age, conditions were ripe for America to develop its own version of socialism. American intellectuals admired the idealism of the utopians, but experience had shown it to be ineffective in bringing about any widespread societal change. When the Communist Manifesto appeared on the scene many intellectuals embraced its core message but, as Marx rightly observed, their form of socialism did not seek to abolish the bourgeois relations of production “by changes in the material conditions of existence, …but [through] administrative reforms, based on the continued existence of these relations; reforms, therefore, that in no respect affect the relations between capital and labor, but, at the best, lessen the cost, and simplify the administrative work, of bourgeois government.”
Building on the utopian ideas of Fourier, Weber and Ripley; the utopian novels of Bellamy and Gronlund; the social gospel of Rauschenbusch, Gladden and Ely; and spurred on by the muckraking journalism of Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair, reformers like Daniel De Leon, Eugene Debs, and Robert La Follett began to fashion the American form of socialism known today as liberalism or progressivism.
Another important, but generally overlooked factor in the shaping of American socialism during the early years of the Progressive era was the “efficiency movement”. The foremost leaders of this movement were Frederick Winslow Taylor and Frank Gilbreth, Sr. Taylor is best known for his 1911 book The Principles of Scientific Management and his work with American industry in promoting scientific management. However, the efficiency movement also included all aspects of economic, social, government and personal improvement as well. At its core was the search for the “one best method” of doing things, guided by “experts” in each field.
Reform leaders Herbert Croly, Richard Ely and others sought to improve the functions of government by training experts in public service. A number of business schools, most notably the University of Wisconsin and the University of Pennsylvania, set up business management courses oriented toward efficiency. Ely, an economist, was a founder and first Secretary of the Christian Social Union in 1891. From 1892 until 1925 he was professor of Political Economy and director of the School of Economics, Political Science, and History at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Ely was a supporter of the union movement and advocated an interventionist government and strong regulatory policies. He also believed that the state should support white "Nordic" people against people of other races, a common view at the University of Wisconsin at the time. Efforts to improve the efficiency of government met with only limited success, but it did establish the idea that government policies are best set by “experts” usually drawn from academia with loads of theory but little practical experience.
Another important tenet of the efficiency movement was the efficient management of natural resources. The undisputed leader in this effort was John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. For Muir, the preservation of nature had a spiritual meaning rather than a commercial one. This led to a conflict with Clifford Pinchot, a close advisor to President Theodore Roosevelt. Pinchot and Roosevelt wanted to preserve natural resources for their long term commercial use. Muir valued nature for its spiritual and transcendental qualities. On a 1906 camping trip with President Roosevelt in the Yosemite wilderness, Muir convinced the president of the value of National Parks as opposed to State Parks.
The Yosemite valley including the Mariposa grove of giant sequoia was granted to the state of California “for public use, resort and recreation” in legislation signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1864. Due to neglect of the park by California it was federalized in 1906 by the Roosevelt administration. The park was placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army until 1914 and when the National Park Service was created in 1916, its care and management was transferred to the Park Service. The Sierra Club is the forerunner of the modern environmentalist move-ment. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the movement was radicalized by progressives and dispossessed communists into a quasi-religious sect that today is one of the leading opponents of capitalism in America.
The Square Deal
Conservation was one of the three primary focuses of the Presidency of “Teddy” Roosevelt. The other two involved controlling corporations and consumer protection. The term “square deal” was first used by Roosevelt in describing his handling of the coal miner’s strike in 1902. He attempted to treat both the United Mine Workers and the mine owners as equals, later claiming he had given both a square deal. The term came to be used as a description of his social policies as President.
Roosevelt was elected Governor of New York in 1898. His efforts to root out corruption and end the spoils system in New York was so intense that Republican boss Thomas Platt forced him on President McKinley (to get him out of New York) as his vice-presidential running mate in 1900 against the wishes of McKinley’s campaign. The McKinley-Roosevelt ticket won the election, defeating William Jennings Bryan in a landslide. When McKinley was assassinated while attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York in September 1901, Roosevelt became President.
As President, Roosevelt attempted to move America in a more “progressive” direction. One of his first acts was to deliver a 20,000 word speech to Congress asking it to curb the power of the large corporations. During his term in office his administration brought 44 antitrust suits against some of the nations biggest businesses earning him the title of “Trust Buster”. The Interstate Commerce Act had been signed into law by Grover Cleveland in 1887. However, some of its provisions had been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and was more or less dormant until Roosevelt took office in 1901.
In 1903 Roosevelt persuaded Congress to establish a new cabinet-level department, the Department of Commerce and Labor to help regulate commerce and monitor labor relations. It was the first new executive department since the Civil War. As an arm of the newly created department, the Bureau of Corporations was established to root out violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Investigators quickly focused on the steel, meatpacking, oil and tobacco industries. Roosevelt’s Attorney General, Philander Knox, launched a series of lawsuits against J.P. Morgan’s Northern Securities Company, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, James Duke’s tobacco companies and a number of other large corporations, 44 in all.
The Interstate Commerce Commission also controlled the rates railroads could charge their customers. In 1903 Congress passed the Elkins Act, prohibiting railroads from offering rebates to large shippers further crippling the rail industry. The long term effect was to cause a major decline in the industry due to its inability to adequately compete with an emerging bus and trucking industry for customers.
In 1906 Roosevelt signed into law the Food and Drug act, also know as the Wiley Act after its chief sponsor. The Act prohibited the interstate transport of food which had been "adulterated" with fillers of reduced "quality or strength", or coloring to conceal "damage or inferiority." The act applied similarly to the interstate marketing of "adulterated" drugs, in which the "standard of strength, quality, or purity" of the active ingredient was not either stated clearly on the label or listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia or the National Formulary.
Roosevelt decided not to run for reelection in 1908 and hand-picked his Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, as his successor. Based on the popularity and support of Roosevelt, Taft won an easy victory, beating William Jennings Bryan by 159 electoral votes giving Bryan the worst defeat of his three Presidential campaigns. Taft won New England, the Midwest and the West. Bryan carried only the Southern states. As President, Taft outdid Roosevelt in “trust busting”, filing lawsuits against 80 major corporations during his four years in office.
In addition to trust busting, Taft concentrated on strength-ening the Interstate Commerce Commission, established a postal savings bank, started a parcel post system and expanded the Civil Service. He was a strong supporter of the sixteenth and seventeenth amendments. The sixteenth Amendment authorizing the income tax was passed by Congress and forwarded to the states in 1911. It was ratified in 1913. Taft was a progressive, but not progressive enough for Roosevelt. Roosevelt was so determined that Taft would not be reelected in 1912 that he ran against him on a third party ticket.
1912: The “All-Progressive” Election Year
By 1912 all mainstream political parties in America promoted a progressive ideology. The Republican Party that had been the incubator of progressive ideas since its founding was split between Roosevelt and Taft supporters over the degree of progressivism held by each group. Taft was considered the more conservative of the two. At the 1912 Republican convention there were three candidates vying for the nomination, Taft, Roosevelt, and Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin. When it became obvious that Taft would win the nomination, Roosevelt and his supporters withdrew from the convention and organized the Progressive Party, also known as the “Bull Moose Party”. The Progressive Party nominated Roosevelt as its standard bearer.
At the Democratic convention there were five candidates in contention. After 46 ballots Woodrow Wilson finally won out. Speaker of the House, Champ Clark had been the frontrunner going into the convention, but when the Tammany Hall faction of New York endorsed him, William Jennings Bryan threw his support behind Wilson, accusing Clark of being in bed with Wall Street. With Bryan’s backing Wilson was selected to represent the Democrats.
The Socialist Party of America had elected local officials in 33 states and 160 cities throughout the country in the previous election. Eugene Debs had been its Presidential Candidate in 1904, 1908, and would be again in 1912. Debs ran five times for President, mostly in order to support local candidates. This fact has significant meaning for the twenty-first century, which we will discuss later. Debs received 5.99% of the popular vote in the election but no electoral votes. In the general election, Roosevelt and Taft split 51% of the popular vote giving the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson with less than 42%. Roosevelt received 27% of the popular vote setting an all-time record for third party candidates and is the only third-party candidate ever to get more votes than a sitting President seeking reelection. All four presidential candidates supported the progressive causes of an income tax, the popular election of Senators and protective tariffs.
E-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org
Philosophy of Evil Socialism in America
"The struggle of History is not between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; it is between government and the governed."