Populist Socialism Reconsidered : The Methodology of the Non-Partisan League

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Populist Socialism Reconsidered:

Methodology of the Non-Partisan League

by Mark Walter Evans

( Revised, by the Author; from 1992)

The late Max Scherr, editor of the Berkeley Barb, holding court in the Mediterraneum coffee house in the ’60s, used to maintain that there were roughly eight different kinds of Socialism in the American political experience. He maintained that even the John Birch Society held positions that were, unconsciously, Socialist. While Max was pontificating to the Capuchino Brigade, the Black Panther Party was receiving the brunt of the F.B.I. Co-Intel-Pro operation attacks during the late ‘Sixties and early ‘Seventies.

But the form of Socialism in America that historically received the most deadly treatment of any Third Party movement in American history – even to the suppression of their literature* and subsequent history – was the Movement which grew out of the Non-Partisan League, in North Dakota, which crossed the state line and morphed into the Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota. This is ironic, because the League was not an armed movement.

The Non-Partisan League, like Jazz, was a purely American accident. As Jazz was a melding of Cajun (Acadian, Scotch-Irish, and French) fiddle music with Afro-American field hollers and African thumb-harp music in the melting pot of Louisiana at the mouth of the Mississippi River, so the League was a product, in the upper Mississippi Valley, of the miscegenation of an indigenous American; Jeffersonian radicalism descended from the American Revolution, with the first wave of socialist ideas from Europe that penetrated North America, blowing into the Mid-west around the 1880s.

In the Prairie Socialism of the Non-Partisan League and the Farmer-Labor Party, traditional, western, Jacksonian Concerns about the Control of Credit and Money, that had remained in the terrain of the Prairie states, as concerns inherited from the times of the Whigs and the Jacobins, surfaced. In the Farmer-Labor Ideology, the two radical American political traditions of the nineteenth century Jeffersonian Radicalism, and Lincoln Greenback Radicalism merged together – and then, mingled again with the “Class-Consciousness” found in the social doctrines of German Social-Democrats, and English Fabian-Socialists, whose organizers crossed the Atlantic, and spread their teachings in America beginning in the ‘eighties of the nineteenth century. This marriage produced a unique hybrid, known, academically, by the name, “Populist-Socialism.”

This was before the term “Socialism” had become such a dirty word to the Masses in America. It was Lenin and Stalin, and their co-workers, who accomplished that.

The League, first organized in 1915 in North Dakota by several socialist organizers who had left the Socialist Party because it did not adequately address the needs of the farmers, organized quietly and almost unnoticed for several months. Formulating a Five-Point Platform, the League, as a “non-party” Party, vowed to support any candidate of any party who would support their Platform and to work against any candidate who would deny or oppose their Platform.

The Platform, which called for State-owned grain elevators, a State Bank, and State-owned hail and fire insurance companies (for the spring wheat) was clearly the reflection of the agrarian concerns of the farmers of North Dakota. It was also the most Revolutionary and Radical State Platform that has ever been formulated, drafted, and effectively enacted into Law – and into Realization – in the whole course of all American history.

From inauspicious beginnings in the mind of single individual, a failed flax farmer named A.C. Townley, “with an idea and a Ford,” in the sub-zero tundra of North Dakota in the winter of 1915, the Non-Partisan League grew and organized, and quickly became a force.

A marvelous book, entitled Political Prairie-Fire, by Robert Morlan, published by the Minnesota Historical Society, is must reading for all organizers who would learn the secrets of the amazing growth of this movement. The black and white art film “NORTHERN LIGHTSalso takes you there.

What is Socialism?

The root of the word Socialism comes from the Latin Socius, meaning ‘friend’ and ‘neighbor,’ and derives from the time before the Roman Republic (until roughly 75O B.C.) when the people of Latvium, living in extended families, were a classless society of Yeomen. They were farmers who helped each other in time of need. Thus, primitive, grassroots Socialism, does contains within itself the spiritual principle of loving your neighbor as yourself, which is the essence of all true religion.

Authentic, local Socialism is something that individual people participate in; not wait for a Lenin or a Stalin to impose upon them. It is voluntary. Thus, it resembles the scene in the film WITNESS” where the Amish farmers get together to raise a Barn in a single day. The principle at work here is called Mutual Aid.

Authentic Socialism would entail a return to an egalitarian society, where the social, cultural, and institutional mechanisms that perpetuate inequality, oppression & chauvinism, have been eliminated from the systemic functioning of human institutions. Populist Socialism believes, intrinsically, both in private enterprise, and in land tenure vested in families. It was a movement whose roots grew out of American soil, having its base amongst farmers, who were passionately concerned with retaining their farms, and passing them on to their children.

As the Commentary on the 1934 Farmer-Labor Party Platform, stated, “Farmer-Labor Platform Seeks not “Confiscation” but “Redistribution” – the argument being made that every nuclear family should have some acreage – a Family Farm to sustain themselves on. {Four Acres of arable Land, per couple, is actually doable in the Present, balancing the current population of the Earth with the available Land on the Planet.}

Authentic, Ideal Socialism, is not Bolshevism, Stalinism, Nazism, or Maoism – which are all undeniably evil movements which called themselves “Socialist,” and which actively practiced mass-murder on folks who wouldn’t march lock-step with their programs. All of these movements contributed to the Negation of Freedom and Dignity, and murdered scores of millions of souls in the Twentieth Century.

Each of those evil forms of ‘Socialism’ were sponsored by the Masters of Capital, on both sides of “the pond.” The owners of the cartel monopolies always continued to do plenty of business with the dictators who managed these evil slave plantations which were set up by the capitalists – both to exploit the industry and raw materials, human & mineral, of the nations in which these experimental “systems” were established, as cultures in so many Petrie dishes, and – ultimately, to discredit the Idea of Socialism, itself. It was an elegant solution, indeed.

Today, the chief economic institutions that perpetuate the inequities of the class system are these same Multi-national Cartels: Industrial, Pharmaceutical, and substance: Grain, Oil, Diamonds, Steel, Gold, Silver, Nickel, Copper, Tin, Tungsten, et cetera… But especially the Banking Cartels, which have appropriated unto themselves the power to create Credit out of thin air.

The Central Banks in the West function as fronts for rich and powerful families who own the controlling stock – the “Class A” stock – of Prime Banks. The Prime Banks in England and America serve as the Capital pool for the World Bank, and the I.M.F.

Since the control of Credit has been privatized, the U.S. Government perpetuates a System where a few families are allowed to pass on to their heirs Bank-Stock that collects tidy dividends from the international debt of every nation.

To the Non-Partisan Leaguers, and the early Farmer-Laborites, the obvious first step towards achieving the “Cooperative Commonwealth,” the concept popularized in Edward Bellamy’s book Looking Backward, was to nationalize Credit, and create a Public Central Bank, open and accountable to the People. These folks envisioned a Treasury of Common Wealth so open to the People, that a Town Hall meeting could be held in the inner sanctum.

This same vision could possibly become the seed for a potential, non-violent, Gandhian, Town Hall, Reform movement in America, in the Present, with the twin aims of Monetary Reform and Land Reform.

During the First World War, Non-Partisan League candidates, Robert LaFollette, Sr., and Charles A. Lindbergh, Sr., along with Eugene Debs, took a principled stand against American involvement in the war and braved rotten eggs and tomatoes, and sometimes bullets and imprisonment, as well as tarring and feathering.

[ This is the kind of fervor and courage that we need to be inspired with today, after years of BushLeague Fascism, and its continuance, in Obama administration Neo-Liberal Fascism, and post-Neo-Con Empire-building madness.]

The elder Lindbergh was considered the chief economic theoretician of the League and of the early Farmer-Labor Party, which, by 1932, had grown to become the largest radical-left third party ever to appear in American history, let alone the 20th century. It was fully 15% of the entire electorate, at the height of the Movement, in 1934-5.

In the election of 1916, the League captured control of the Republican Party in North Dakota, elected the legislature, and elected their candidate as governor in North Dakota. In a single session of the State Legislature, they enacted all five planks of the Platform of “State Socialism,” including the foundation of the State-owned Bank of North Dakota, which continues to this day. The New York Times wrote in 1918, in genuine trepidation, of “Bolshevism on the Prairie.”

Today the times have changed. Many of the issues have changed, though some remain. The Private Banking industry still lends fictitious “Credit” to people, hypothecated on Real Estate as collateral. Agribusiness, International Finance, and the Grain Cartels are certainly still around and have virtually eliminated the Family Farm and the small farmers, who were the basic interest group who organized the League and were fully half of the Farmer-Labor Party.

Crucial lessons may yet be gleaned both from the amazing organizational acuity – and the subsequent pitfalls of this movement.

Could a five-point platform today, as the basis for non-violent, revolutionary political change on a national and global level, address the pressing needs all the common people in North America – and indeed all the people of the World? Could such a Movement take state power in the United States today?

That is the Question.

The following five-point program could be a possible Agenda for a Coast-to-Coast Non-Partisan League in the present:

1. The Government, of the People, for the People, and by the People, should issue sufficient non-interest bearing U.S. notes to purchase back the capital stock of the Federal Reserve Bank from its current private owners. In agreement with Article 1, Section 8, Clause 5, of the U.S. Constitution, henceforth the Government of the People should control its own credit and cease issuing interest-bearing notes, bonds, and securities. Pension-fund, and Ma and Pa and holders of U.S. Savings bonds should be paid off in full, but no bank or trust company holding securities against the U.S. Government debt shall be paid more than Seven Per Cent in full, on the bonded indebtedness of the face value of the U.S. Treasury Certificates they were holding, when the Debt-Repudiation finally takes place.

2. The American People should move for immediate legislation to cancel All fictitious International “Debt” owed by any nation – including this nation – to the Prime Banks of the First World. And to Declare, Collectively, in chanting, resonant Unison, that the Year 2012 shall be, not only the Day of Reckoning: but also, the Year of Jubilee for the release of all nations from the bondage of debt to the international commercial banks.

3. Corporations, in the form of Kraals, of forty couples working, and owning the Land cooperatively, should be established by compatible people, to possess and occupy farms of one hundred and sixty acres. These should be set up everywhere in the arable Lands of the Interior. This Land Is Our Land; and Land – the Earth – should not be allowed to be owned by any Person, Family, or Corporation { including the so-called “Federal Government,” a Delaware Corporation} who, or that, is not Present to Occupy it, in Person.

4. Thus, the People must consider and address the issue of Land Reform, and Move, to Liberate the millions of acres that were fraudulently given to the Railroad corporations in violation of the Homestead Act of 1862, as well as the additional millions of acres that were swindled by the timber barons by fraud, – again, in violation of the Homestead Act of 1862 – which theft, is described in the book, Looters of the Public Domain, by Steven D. Puter.

These lands should be made available for Homesteading to every American who wants a Homestead. A just and reasonable Portion is Four Acres per Couple. Furthermore, we should endeavor to provide Just Compensation – in land, not money – for lands stolen from all the tribes of Native Americans.

5. The People must begin the painful process of learning how to live on the earth in a manner that does not destroy it. We must learn again the ancient rhythms of seed-time and of harvest. We must strive to create a sustainable civilization upon the earth, in the World-After-Oil. This last point is both a turning inward, and a return to ancestral patterns that existed before the invention of the internal combustion engine and the automobile. It is a point that can only be done by each and every individual him or herself. It is, nevertheless, highly political. UN-Agenda21 does not want us to live in rural areas. We, the People, however, must Insist that We Must. Thus, Land Reform, the Slogan being “Four Acres and a Tax-break” is the Genuine Arena of the Authentic Revolution, in the Present.

– Mark Walter Evans

– Published in the North Coast Xpress, 1992 –
and amended, August, & November, 2011

Creative Commons @ Mark Walter Evans, 2007.


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