Saturday, July 07, 2007

The many faces of socialism's failures in the United States.

[I]t was the United States, with its new social optimism and the enormous unoccupied spaces, which was to become the great nursery for [socialist] experiments. . . .

. . . Robert Owen came to America in 1824 and started an Owenite movemen: there were at least a dozen Owenite communities; and Albert Brisbane, who had brought Fourierism back from Paris and had been given a rostrum by Horace Greeley in The New York Tribune, propagandized for it in the 1840's with such success that more than forty groups went out to build Fourierist phalansteries (which included Brook Farm in its second phase). This movement, which arose at the same time as the great tide of religious revivalism and which was entangled at various points with Transcendentalism, Swedenborgianism, Perfectionism and Spiritualism, persisted through the early fifties until the agitation for free farms in the West, culminating in the Homestead Act of 1863, diverted the attention of the dissatisfied from labor organizations and socialism. It is hard to arrive at any precise estimate of the number of these communities, but there are records of at least a hundred and seventy-eight, including the religious communities practising communism, ranging in membership from fifteen to nine hundred; and Morris Hillquit, in his History of American Socialism, seems to believe there were many more, involving altogether "hundreds of thousands of members." The Owenite and Fourierist communities alone are supposed to have occupied some fifty thousand acres. There were communities entirely Yankee and communities, like the French Icarians and the German religious groups, made up entirely of immigrants. There were sectarian communities, communities merely Christian and communities full of Deists and unbelievers. There were communities that practised complete chastity and communities that practised "free love"; communities that went in for vegetarianism. Some aimed at pure communism of property and profit, and some -- notably the Fourierist phalanxes -- were organized as joint stock companies. Some, entirely discarding money, lived by barter with the outside world; some by building up industries and driving a good bargain. . . .

With their saw mills and grist mills and flour mills and their expanses of untried acres, with their communal dormitories and dining halls, they achieved some genuinely stimulating, harmonious and productive years, but more quarreling and impoverished failures. A very few of these communities lasted longer than a decade, but a great many never completed two years. They had against them sources of dissension within and pressure of public opinion from without, incapacity of lower-class groups to live up to socialist ideals and incapacity of upper-class groups to adapt themselves to manual labor. And all kinds of calamities befell them: fires and typhoid epidemics. A creek would overflow on swampy ground and they would all come down with fever and ague. They would be baffled by land which they had had the bad judgment to buy while it was under snow. They would start off with inadequate equipment or insufficient supplies and never be able to make them go round; or with debts that would get heavier and heavier and finally drag them down. They would find themselves in legal difficulties in connection with their titles to land; they would be unbusinesslike and make messes of their accounts. They would be disrupted by the bigotries of the religious and by jealousies among the women. They would suffer, as was said by a member of the Marlboro Association in Ohio, from "lack of faith in those who had the funds and lack of funds in those who had the faith"; and from "accepting the needy, the disabled and the sick." They would end up in acrimonious lawsuits brought by members against the association; or in the event of their actually having been able to increase the value of their property, there would be members unable to resist the temptation to speculate and sell the community out.
Edmund Wilson, To The Finland Station 101-04 (NYRB, 2003).

Your blog title's misquotation of the cliched phrase "All intents and puposes" makes you seem hapless & illiterate even if the misquotation was intentional.
Your name, "Mike," makes you sound like an ironic guy, even if you seemingly lack a sense of irony.
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