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Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 18, 2012

Engels, in 1892, explains USA 120 years later

This is worth re-reading about once every other week. From a letter written by Friedrich Engels in 1892:

There is no place yet in America for a third party, I believe. The divergence of interests even in the same class group is so great in that tremendous area that wholly different groups and interests are represented in each of the two big parties, depending on the locality, and almost each particular section of the possessing class has its representatives in each of the two parties to a very large degree, though today big industry forms the core of the Republicans on the whole, just as the big landowners of the South form that of the Democrats. The apparent haphazardness of this jumbling together is what provides the splendid soil for the corruption and the plundering of the government that flourish there so beautifully. Only when the land — the public lands — is completely in the hands of the speculators, and settlement on the land thus becomes more and more difficult or falls prey to gouging — only then, I think, will the time come, with peaceful development, for a third party. Land is the basis of speculation, and the American speculative mania and speculative opportunity are the chief levers that hold the native-born worker in bondage to the bourgeoisie. Only when there is a generation of native- born workers that cannot expect anything from speculation any more will we have a solid foothold in America. But, of course, who can count on peaceful development in America! There are economic jumps over there, like the political ones in France — to be sure, they produce the same momentary retrogressions.

The small farmer and the petty bourgeois will hardly ever succeed in forming a strong party; they consist of elements that change too rapidly — the farmer is often a migratory farmer, farming two, three, and four farms in succession in different states and territories, immigration and bankruptcy promote the change in personnel, and economic dependence upon the creditor also hampers independence — but to make up for it they are a splendid element for politicians, who speculate on their discontent in order to sell them out to one of the big parties afterward.

The tenacity of the Yankees, who are even rehashing the Greenback humbug, is a result of their theoretical backwardness and their Anglo- Saxon contempt for all theory. They are punished for this by a superstitious belief in every philosophical and economic absurdity, by religious sectarianism, and by idiotic economic experiments, out of which, however, certain bourgeois cliques profit.

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Responses

  1. So how come the elimination of free land didn’t have the impact Engels predicted?

  2. One or both of the current parties may self-destruct, as has happened before, leaving room for a new party. Ralph Nader has made the interesting point that the U.S. would be better off without political parties.

  3. Haw! You’ve got to hand it to Freddy….” and almost each particular section of the possessing class has its representatives in each of the two parties to a very large degree”. What a guy! And today, we on the left with our Zeitgeists and populist rants about the Fed, supporting all kinds of nationalisms and very little, if any, class analysis, hear a voice from the past making a class analysis which bring clarity to the mess we’re in: the rule of Capital. The bourgeois democratic electoral system is, of course, rigged to produce a consistent result: the continued rule of Capital. Reforms are modifications of this rule, to be sure; but they don’t change the basic social relation based on the continued political servility of the working class i.e. wage labour. And as long as people like Engels can be put in the ‘out of date’ box, we’ll have, “contempt for all theory….and be… ” punished for this by a superstitious belief in every philosophical and economic absurdity, by religious sectarianism, and by idiotic economic experiments, out of which, however, certain bourgeois cliques profit.” IOW, anything but the abolition of the wage system.

  4. Because the speculative spirit in the USA is endlessly renewed?

  5. Interesting to see the Greenback movement so denigrated by a radical contemporary who I would have imagined to be a fellow traveler in the cause for publicly controlled money creation…? Hate to say it but from the little this quote gives me to go on Engels smacks of a peculiar elitism here. Radical agrarian populism a mere humbug because it is grounded not in the theoretical tracts of the Continental academic class (he means Hegel here?) but the actual lived crises and hardships of gilded age capitalism? I’d say this excerpt as much proves Engels lack of prescience as it does his far-sightedness. It’s true that the American populism of the day that he finds so impure was no doubt a very uneasy collaboration between farm and industrial labor that ultimately failed to reconcile race and ethnicity antipathies. But the idea of money as public monopoly a mere humbug!? Such a lofty idea seen fated to failure by the arm chair prognosticator of inevitable inversion of capital ownership!? The fatalism of this guy! God forbid the public intellectual actually sees himself as an influence on history. Is that the lurking sentiment here? Feel free of accusing me of missing the point about the party system but I find this very curious talk. There is something very establishment and anti-democratic that I have yet to fully put my finger on about philosophies of inevitable futures, from Mark and Engels to Kurzweil.

  6. John wrote:

    (my emphases)

    “But the idea of money as PUBLIC monopoly a mere humbug!?”

    “There is something very establishment and ANTI-DEMOCRATIC that I have yet to fully put my finger on about philosophies of inevitable futures, from Mark and Engels”

    I find it fascinating and terrifying that so many North American leftists think that anything smacking even remotely of democracy must ipso facto be treated as being handed down from On High.

  7. Well since my spirit of inquiry and investigation failed so far to come across Imight as well take my turn with argumentum ad hominem, just for shits and giggles, because maybe the internet isn’t the messiah of pluralist discourse after all. This will be a first for me. I believe the kids call it flaming. Heregoes.

    I think Todd might be a web bot. Is this a Turing test Toddbot? Most of his (its?) reply consisted of quoting myself back to me, an easy feat for a computer program. Even the earliest robot discussants could imitate the talking cure methodology. How does that make you feel toddbot?

    From there generalities are made based on the following assumptions that any statistical algorithm could come up with. I am north american (google john woodward). I am a leftist (google left business observer or doug henwood). i am anti-democratic (google any term associated with leftism). None of this information has much to do with the substance of my reply. But the trick of an artificially intelligent discussant is to appear to engage a conversation by bringing in search-correlated information that in reality just deflects a prolonged investigation into a topic.

    Let me tell you what fascinates me. Todd is almost definitely not a computer. He is almost definitely a highly inductive human being who finds convenient perch in the blogosphere from which to pretend intellectual superiority by actively repelling debate. One of the rhetorical tropes of this breed of human is to state that they find something fascinating about the worldviews of others as if they themselves are nothing more than a set of objective sexless eyeballs gazing out on the endless folly of all others. Do you really find it fascinating that I think of democracy as handed down from on high? I would find that fascinating too. Maybe I should re-read my previous post to figure out what I believe.

    …Ah yes. When I said I thought it was interesting to see Engels disparage radical American populism that’s actually what I meant. The greenback movement, despite american amnesia and despite Engels minimizing, was a huge deal and reverberates today. Plus I would have assumed solidarity, given Engels politics. Thus I wonder why not. I know little about Engels the man. It was a provocative quote. It raised questions for me. I asked them, with some opinion thrown in of course but not enough to neuter the query i had hoped.

    This is the second time I have attempted to exercise the ideal of the web as a forum for civil/scholarly discourse and I just figured out why blog discussions are always so degenerate. It’s plain fun to dis people and feel the triumph without the reality of a room full of people to be the true judge. But seriously if someone has any insight into the reasons for Engels’ to me glaring lack of solidarity with the american activist tradition by all freaking means don’t let toddbot scare you off. I’m not expecting much from Yglesias of course. Gosh flaming is fun.

  8. I would argue that the “free land” is (was, at least throught the most recent bubble) still being offered.

    Consider-

    The “free land” Engels is referencing are Western lands taken from the conquered native inhabitants. The Federal government policy was to the distubute the land “free” or at very favorable terms.

    Once the West was closed, it would seem that the books were closed on the free land.

    Allowing for some lag in what historians usually guage as the closing of the West, the free/cheap land probably dried up around the Great Depression.

    That was the point where finance capital discovered the mortgage. The mortgage was around for a long time before that, of course, but not for the working classes. What was not put in place was not old timey land grabs, but subsidized mortgages: FHA, GI Bills, income tax write-off etc. Homestead farmer plots morphed into Levitttown subdivisions.

    So-
    Engel’s analysis is still valid- the more things change, the more they remain the same.

    (My apologies for being so theoretical…)

  9. John wrote:

    “an easy feat for a computer program.”

    Yes. It’s called “copy-and-paste”.

    Just in case it slipped by you, I copied and pasted the relevant points as an aide to reading so that a one doesn’t keep having to scroll up and down to read point and counter-point.

    “i am anti-democratic”

    Where on Earth did I write this?

    If anything, I was hoping to point out what looks like a _fetish_ for democracy on your part.

    “to pretend intellectual superiority by actively repelling debate.”

    Did you actually bother reading what prompted my response?

    “The greenback movement … was a huge deal and reverberates today.”

    Yes. And it reverberates still (in both right and left forms) for much the same reasons it did back then: ignorance and wishful thinking.

    “Plus I would have assumed solidarity, given Engels politics. Thus I wonder why not.”

    Um, you didn’t just “wonder”: you dredged up some very fine examples of elements of (left) populism, such as anti-intellectualism and a mild nativist producerism.

    You might want to knock that shit off; it kind of impedes ones ability to understand more clearly.

    “I have attempted to exercise the ideal of the web as a forum for civil/scholarly discourse”

    You should try actually doing that some time. Here, I’ll help you.

    You ask a polite question, like this: “I don’t understand. Why did Engels dis the greenback?” You don’t add anything else, like a verbal sneer or snapping of your fingers; that tends to get the wrong response.

    If you’re lucky, someone will be able to spare the time and/or effort to (try to) answer; otherwise, you’ll have to figure it out on your own.

    “It’s plain fun to dis people and feel the triumph without the reality of a room full of people to be the true judge.”

    True.

    Having anyone on the entire planet who happens to come by to this very public website judge what I write generates an entirely different frisson.

  10. BTW, John, here’s something I just found that might help answer your question about Engels’ attitude towards the greenback:

    http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2012/henwood210112.html

    About a quarter of the way down, the interview starts going into 19th-century American populism.

  11. […] Engels, in 1892, explains USA 120 years later (lbo-news.com) Share this:FacebookTwitterEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Financial/economic information, Illuminati/Terrorism/Corruption, Political and tagged 1892 Bankers' Manifesto, Democratic Party, Farmers Alliance, Gary North, Knights of Labor, Natural and legal rights, Republican Party, United State. Bookmark the permalink. ← Historical Error #23: A Bogus Document, “Bankers Manifesto of 1892″ – by Gary North […]


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