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Submitted by adri on March 26, 2024

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westartfromhere

3 months 3 weeks ago

Submitted by westartfromhere on March 28, 2024

Should we regard the American "yeoman" farmers, whom these social reformers (George Henry Evans, John Farrel, Horace Greeley, et al) advocated for, as "settler-colonialists"? After all, the "free land" was already occupied although not legally recognised as such. Or, more crudely, should we regard these yeoman farmers as exploited proletarians, as "white slaves", cultivating the land for future industrial use of capital?

adri

3 months 3 weeks ago

Submitted by adri on March 29, 2024

Should we regard the American "yeoman" farmers, whom these social reformers (George Henry Evans, John Farrel, Horace Greeley, et al) advocated for, as "settler-colonialists"? After all, the "free land" was already occupied although not legally recognised as such.

The Voice did not really deal much with Native Americans, though it is certainly true that many American social reformers and anti-capitalists saw the opening up of public lands as a means of escaping the poverty and evils of the developing capitalist system in the northern states.[1] However, I don’t think that necessarily means these same people were all settler-colonialists in favor of murdering or replacing the indigenous inhabitants already living in the west. American westward expansion was certainly characterized by such violence (e.g. the 1830 Indian Removal Act, the violence against Native Americans during the California Gold Rush, and countless other examples), but many of the Americans and European immigrants who took advantage of the later 1862 Homestead Act were often simply looking for a better life. Nonetheless, I also think the social reformers and others who advocated for people moving west would have done better to confront the “worker/social question” where they already lived, especially considering how northern capitalism would eventually spread from "sea to shining sea."

Or, more crudely, should we regard these yeoman farmers as exploited proletarians, as "white slaves", cultivating the land for future industrial use of capital?

Regarding whether American (or European) wage-laborers were the “white slaves” to capital, such language can be problematic, especially when employed to diminish the horrors of black chattel slavery, but I generally don’t find its use by socialists (as opposed to right-wingers) to be an issue. Marx, for example, made quite a few analogies to American slavery in Capital when he spoke about the condition of nominally “free” wage-laborers. The use of expressions like “wage-slavery” is also ubiquitous these days, and it would be ridiculous to argue that we should stop using such terms because they supposedly lessen the significance or brutality of actual slavery. Bourgeois historians love to ridicule historical or contemporary opposition to American industrialization (just pick up any textbook) by pointing out how slavery’s supporters (e.g. George Fitzhugh) also attacked northern capitalism. However, such historians conveniently ignore how northern workers opposed the developing factory system themselves, in addition to southern chattel slavery; many northerners thus stood against all forms of unfreedom. Here's just one example from the Voice (or the New Era of Industry—they changed their name in 1848), in which the author was speaking about the upcoming (1848) US presidential election:

The question of the non-extension of slavery, taken by itself, provided that could be done, is a great question. But it is only a very small part of the question of which it forms a part, which is the great question of labor—the question of humanity's right to live in its own free impassioned action—by the fruit of its own free and voluntary pursuits. It is not enough to plant oneself against slavery's extension, but upon its extinction; not against negro chattel slavery alone, but also against white and black wage slavery, wherever it exists. It is of no use to say that a man shall not work as a slave, until you can establish conditions whereby he may work as a free man. It is not negro emancipation alone which the age is calling for; but for the universal redemption of labor. It is not fragments of social architecture, built up into detached and isolated individualities, but its unity, integrity, and the synthesis wherein each fragment finds its complement, in its association with each other. (New Era of Industry, Vol. 1 No. 9)

1. It’s interesting to note that Bakunin also referenced, in 1867, how going west was often an escape for many American workers. He was also writing after the 1862 Homestead Act:

Bakunin wrote: It has been otherwise in North America; offering a freedom which does not exist anywhere else, it attracts every year hundreds of thousands of energetic, industrious, and intelligent settlers whom it is in a position to admit because of this wealth. It thereby keeps poverty away and at the same time staves off the moment when the social question will arise. A worker who finds no work or is dissatisfied with the wages which capital offers him can in the last resort always make his way to the Far West and set about clearing a patch of land in the wilderness.

Since this possibility is always open as a way out for all the workers of America, it naturally keeps wages high and affords to each an independence unknown in Europe. This is an advantage; but there is also a disadvantage. As the good prices for industrial goods are largely due to the good wages received by labor, American manufacturers are not in a position in most cases to compete with the European manufacturers. The result is that the industry of the Northern states finds it necessary to impose a protectionist tariff. This, however, first brings about the creation of a number of artificial industries, and particularly the oppression and ruination of the nonmanufacturing Southern states, which drives them to call for secession. Finally, the result is the crowding together in cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and others of masses of workers who gradually begin to find themselves in a situation analogous to that of workers in the great manufacturing states of Europe. And, as a matter of fact, we now see the social question confronting the Northern states just as it has confronted us a great deal earlier.

However, among other things, I wouldn’t really agree with his argument that the northern states were only beginning to confront the “social question” in the 1860s. As evidenced by strikes like the one in Allegheny, American workers were already expressing dissatisfaction with the emerging capitalist system by the 1840s and earlier.

westartfromhere

3 months 3 weeks ago

Submitted by westartfromhere on March 29, 2024

Much appreciate your reference to "sea to shining sea." Reminds me of another contemporary reformist catchphase in the "settler-colonialist" context.

Wow. Interesting reading: It is not fragments of social architecture, built up into detached and isolated individualities, but its unity, integrity, and the synthesis wherein each fragment finds its complement, in its association with each other.

Reading Bakunin, it is hard to see why he and Marx would have any disagreement. That short piece reads like it could have come directly from the pen of Marx.