Invention of the white race

Dhlazare at Dhlazare at
Mon Jun 1 12:35:23 PDT 1998

Dhlazare at wrote:

> Still not quite right. Populism disintegrated as an organized political party

> after 1896, but it lingered on as a kind of political syndrome for a long time

> after. In this form, it grew wackier and wackier, descending into anti-

> urbanism, anti-semitism, anti-intellectualism, etc. as the careers of Henry

> Ford and Wm. Jennings Bryan illustrate.


Relating the morbid symptoms you list to 'Populism' is as dubious

as relating Lenin to, say, the Sparticist League. There's a lot of

intervening water over the damn, or a lot of streams and tributaries

relative to the initial, main currents.

Your attacks on populism dovetail perfectly with those of Capital

and mainstream historians, which I'm sure is purely unintentional on

your part. It's also how our rulers attack labor when it 'misbehaves'

by attacking NAFTA or the IMF--exceeding its proper boundaries,

so to speak.

MBS >>

Allow me to clarify my view on populism and, by extension, Lawrence goodwyn's book, "Democratic Promise." Two things are worth bearing in mind about the Populists. The first is that they were overwhelmingly a petty proprietors' movement. This is not simply Marxist dogma speaking, but rather the only way to understand them in all their complexity. As small proprietors, the Populists at the best contained much that was positive -- their hatred of big capital, for example, their outrage of political corruption, their call for nationalization of the railroads, and so on. But there was much that was reactionary --their belief in the virtues of small business, anti-urbanism, etc. As small proprietors, their outlook was small as well. They were unable to comprehend capitalism as it was actually taking shape in the 1890s and could only "understand" it as some sort great Jeffersonian drama in which "the miners and sappers" were once more trying to topple the old republican moral order in which they, "the cultivatrs of the earth," occuppied the highest rung. It was a case of evil versus good -- evil monopolists on Wall Street, evil international bankers with names like Rothschild in London, evil Shylocks everywhere. Hostility to big banks, railroads, etc. led inevitably to hostility to industry, cities, and, esp. after the debacle f 1896, to people who lived in those cities, particularly the Jews. Amid all the discussions of race recently, it is interesting to note that Northern populists were not especially hostile to blacks during this period. Memories of the Civil War were too fresh, and besides, blacks were a Southern "problem," as far as Northern farmers were concerned, out of sight and hence out of mind. For Soutehrn populists, it was a different story. Although there are a lot of stories of black-white cooperation among Southern agrarian elements, the white Populist record on race was patchy at best and outrightly hostile at worst. Bear in mind that Southern Populists saw themselves as oppressed by Northern capital, which they identified with the GOP. This was the same party that had rampaged through Georgia during the Civil War and which was now pressing them economically to the wall. Since the Republicans were perceived in the South as the friend of the blacks -- and indeed most blacks who still voted did so for the GOP -- hard-pressed white farmers gravitated to an anti-black, anti- Republican position.

The second thing worth bearing in mind about the Populists is that their cause was hopeless. Esp. on the Plains and in the South, the movement's stronghold, farmers were under-capitalized and over their heads in debt. Global markets were groaning under the weight of a mounting grain surplus. The agricultural sector, particularly that oriented to export, was bound to shrink rel. to the larger economy as it shifted more and more into heavy industry. A socialist government could have done much to ameliorate the farmers' situation, which was indeed cruel, but it could do nothing to restore the Jeffersonian moral order.

Goodwyn's book is, of course, an enormous, 700+ page corrective to Eisenhower- era liberals like Hofstadter for whom any type of political extremism is a sympton neurotic maladjustment. But Goodwyn's work is equally tendentious in an opposite way. He goes to heroic lengths to paint the Populists in a positive way while glossing over all contributed to the movement's growing instability.

Dan Lazare

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