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Hayek on Mannheim: Or how One Road to Serfdom Thesis is Used to Block Another Road to Serfdom Thesis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/06/2022 - 1:24am in


Hayek, Marxism

Last week (recall) I noted the significance to Foucault's Weberian reading of Hayek that in The Road to Serfdom (1944) Mannheim's historicist interpretation of the law is one of the official targets of Hayek (especially in chapter “Planning and the Rule of Law”). In the passage from Mannheim's Man and Society (1940) that Hayek cites (without page-number), Mannheim himself calls attention to Weber (and his differences with Weber).* In his (1960) The Constitution of Liberty, Hayek drops the Mannheim reference and near the end of chapter 10 criticizes Weber's (indeed slightly different) historicist interpretation of the law (recall here). In both cases, he offers detailed responses to the historicist. That's not the end of the matter because in Volume II of Law, Legislation and Liberty (1976: p. 86), Hayek then uses the very same Mannheim quote, albeit shortened, as he had used in The Road to Serfdom (but now with page-number reference--see note 33!)

As it happens, Mannheim goes unmentioned in the The Constitution of Liberty. This is quite a difference from The Road to Serfdom, where Mannheim -- and his Man and Society in the Age of Reconstruction in particular, which Hayek calls "a widely acclaimed book" (p. 21) --is really one of Hayek's main negative exemplars.+ Mannheim is presented as holding the "extreme position" which defends "planning for freedom." This position entails, on Hayek's reconstruction, the "collective and "conscious" direction of all social forces to deliberately chosen goals." And Hayek alerts the reader that "we shall have to comment [on it] yet more than once." (p. 21) And on the same page, Hayek lists Mannheim among the German thinkers who have helped perfect "socialism" in the more radical and less radical forms (p. 21-22).

Unsurprisingly, then, later in The Road to Serfdom, Hayek treats Mannheim not just as a defender of legal historicism, but also as somebody who holds that collective planning is compatible with parliamentary control (and so democracy) over the planning process (p. 72). And, in fact, while Hayek doesn't mention this, on the very page he quotes from Man and Society, Mannheim also asserts that by reshaping the separation of powers along "functional lines" these can be "more easily applied to a planned society than to a liberal democratic one." (Man and Society, p. 340) And while Mannheim seems to grant that in a planned society sovereignty may take the form of a dictatorship, he denies that it is "necessary." Interestingly enough, Hayek, in response, does not assert the necessity, but only claims explicitly that such a system "tends toward the plebiscitarian democracy." (p. 72) So, here Hayek and Mannheim actually agree formally about the facts, but we might say have a different risk tolerance.

Finally, in the chapter ("the end of truth"), Hayek returns a final time to Mannheim (in The Road to Serfdom). In order to note that the old meaning of 'liberty' has been destroyed and discarded for a new idea of 'freedom.' (The Road to Serfdom, p. 162) Hayek treats Mannheim's ideas about "collective freedom" as entirely "misleading." (And even compares Mannheim here explicitly to "totalitarian politicians.") For Hayek, such collective freedom merely involves "the unlimited freedom of the planner to do with society what he pleases." (162) I return to this below.

It is worth noting that Mannheim's historicism, leads him to distinguish among three uses of 'freedom' and so three kinds of liberty depending on the three social/historical stage. More important from the perspective of Hayek's criticism, Mannheim explicitly recognizes the worry that under planning there is no restriction on the "powers of the planner." (Man in Society, 378) And so his response to the worry that Hayek presses later is that the "existence of essential forms of freedom" have to be secured by the plan itself. (378) He sometimes also calls for the "creation of free zones within the planned structure." (379) For Mannheim, "the advent of planned freedom [in the third stage] does not mean that all earlier forms of freedom must be abolished." (379) And, in fact, for Mannheim this means that independence of intermediary institutions such as "hospitals, schools, and universities" is preserved. (380) As we have seen, Hayek finds this idea to preserve Burkean platoons under planning impossible to take seriously as a genuine possibility under planning.

Anyway, the disappearance of Mannheim in The Constitution of Liberty after being so important to the rhetoric and argument of the Road to Serfdom was striking to me. I also thought it odd that Hayek only focuses on Man and Society, and the not more famous Ideology and Utopia. This got me curious about Hayek's wider engagement with Mannheim.

And, in fact, in earlier work published as the (1952) Counter-Revolution of Science, but mostly dating to the early 1940s, Hayek had engaged with the idea that consistently pursued historicism leads to a sophisticated sociology of knowledge (p. 76). But Hayek doesn't name anyone in particular. In his edition, Studies on the Abuse and Decline of Reason, Bruce Caldwell plausibly suggests Hayek has Mannheim's Ideology and Utopia in mind here (p. 139 n). 

In another essay, ""Conscious" Direction and the Growth of Reason," in The Counter-Revolution of Science, Hayek explicitly quotes again from Man and Society (p. 213) in order to illustrate the tendency in modern  thought (he also cites Hobhouse and Needham) for "the growth of the human mind itself" under conscious control (p. 88). And he quotes Mannheim as follows: "man's thought has become more spontaneous and absolute than it ever was, since it now perceives the possibility of determining itself." ** So, this echoes (or historically anticipates) the treatment of Mannheim on p. 21 in The Road to Serfdom quoted/discussed above.

Finally, in his chapter, "Engineers as planners" The Counter-Revolution of Science, Hayek writes that "in recent years this desire to apply engineering technique to the solution of social problems has become very explicit." (p. 94) And in the accompanying footnote he cites Mannheim's Man and Society, pp. 240-4 at length:

"functionalism made its first appearance in the field of the natural sciences, and could be described as the technical point of view. It has only recently been transferred to the social sphere... Once this technical approach was transferred from natural sciences to human affairs, it was bound to bring about a profound change in man himself. . . The functional approach no longer regards ideas and moral standards as absolute values, but as products of the social process which can, if necessary, be changed by scientific guidance combined with political practice. . . The extension of the doctrine of technical supremacy which I have advocated in this book is in my opinion inevitable . . . Progress in the technique of organization is nothing but the application of technical conceptions to the forms of co-operation. A human being, regarded as part of the social machine, is to a certain extent stabilized in his reactions by training and education, and all his recently acquired activities are co-ordinated according to a definite principle of efficiency within an organized framework."

This passage is not quoted in The Road to Serfdom. But it is definitely alluded to in Hayek's claim that in a system of collective planning, "The only tastes which are satisfied are the taste for power as such, the pleasure of being obeyed and of being part of a well-functioning and immensely powerful machine to which everything else must give way." (Hayek (1944 [2001]), p. 155) And Hayek's position here relies on the idea (already quoted above) that under collective planning there only freedom that exists is "the unlimited freedom of the planner to do with society what he pleases." (162) And Hayek clearly means to imply that Mannheim's identification with the social planner makes him unreliable on the possible experiences of those whose lives are planned.

So, what Hayek's explicit response to Mannheim in "Engineers as planners" The Counter-Revolution of Science helps explain is that even when Mannheim is not mentioned in The Road to Serfdom, he is still polemically engaged with Mannheim as the exemplary intellectual who advocates planning. I would not be surprised if a close reading of Man and Society in light of The Road to Serfdom would find more polemical points of contact between Hayek and Mannheim.

The reason I think that is because if we look at what Hayek cites from Man and Society (pp. 240-244) in "Engineers as planners," we can discern that at a key moment, Mannheim embraces a species of historical determinism: "The extension of the doctrine of technical supremacy which I have advocated in this book is in my opinion inevitable." (this is from p. 243 in Man and Society.) And in context, Mannheim makes clear that while his "dynamics of history" is indebted to Marx, it's also distinct. And the reason it's distinct, according to Mannheim, is that for Mannheim modern weapons technology alters the nature of warfare and the class system by producing a kind of mind that is neither bourgeois nor proletariat. (This kind of anticipates Burnham by the way.) And this new kind new kind of mind with access to weapons that can shape the economy, will make an entirely different dictatorship (than the dictatorship of the proletariat) possible.  (p. 243) 

And, in fact, if I understand him correctly, it is in order to prevent this new kind of dictatorship that, according to Mannheim, collective planning for freedom is required!++ So, in order to avoid a road to serfdom in which as a consequence of modern technology and social techniques of control (see especially p. 260 of Man and Society), military dictatorships that are immune to revolution -- a view more common in the era -- become entrenched that collective planning is required (pp. 260-261). That is to say, while the idea of a road to serfdom anticipates Hayek's account (we have seen it in Hobhouse, Mises, Belloc, and it has been attributed by Knight to Lippmann), Hayek's road to serfdom is -- inter alia -- a rather explicit response to Mannheim's own road to serfdom thesis.



*Hayek's citations are to the English translation. I am not enough of a Hayek scholar to know if he read Mannheim in the German (1935) original or in the translation.

+All my citations to The Road to Serfdom are to the 2001 Routledge edition.

**To be sure, Hayek recognizes that Hobhouse, Needham, and Mannheim are by no means identical in their intellectual orientation:

Though, according as these doctrines spring from Hegelian or positivist views, those who hold them form distinct groups who mutually regard themselves as completely different from and greatly superior to the other, the common idea that the human mind is, as it were, to pull itself up by its own boot-straps, springs from the same general approach: the belief that by studying human Reason from the outside and as a whole we can grasp the laws of its motion in a more complete and comprehensive manner than by its patient exploration from the inside, by actually following up the processes in which individual minds interact. (Hayek (1952) The Counter-Revolution of science, p. 88)

I have to admit that I do not think this is a fair representation of the views of Hobhouse or Mannheim.

++I think Bruce Caldwell "Hayek and Socialism" (1997) comes quite close to saying this too, see, especially, the phrasing of p. 1868. 

Schumpeter, Marxism, True Liberalism, and Imperialism (with a hint of Foucault)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/06/2022 - 10:10pm in

At first sight, the [neo-Marxist] theory [of imperialism] seems to fit some cases tolerably well. The most important instances are afforded by the English and Dutch conquests in the tropics. But other cases, such as the colonization of New England, it does not fit at all. And even the former type of case is not satisfactorily described by the Marxian theory of imperialism. It would obviously not suffice to recognize that the lure of gain played a role in motivating colonial expansion. The Neo-Marxists did not mean to aver such a horrible platitude. If these cases are to count for them, it is also necessary that colonial expansion came about, in the way indicated, under pressure of accumulation on the rate of profit, hence as a feature of decaying, or at all events of fully matured, capitalism. But the heroic time of colonial adventure was precisely the time of early and immature capitalism when accumulation was in its beginnings and any such pressure—also, in particular, any barrier to exploitation of domestic labor—was conspicuous by its absence. The element of monopoly was not absent. On the contrary it was far more evident than it is today. But that only adds to the absurdity of the construction which makes both monopoly and conquest specific properties of latter-day capitalism.--Joseph A. Schumpeter (1950 [1943]) Capitalism, Socialism, Democracy, third edition, p.53 [emphasis added]

Schumpeter spent a good part of his life thinking about Marxism, and even wrote quite a bit about Marxist accounts of imperialism. So, it might seem unfair to him and to Marxists to focus our attention on the quoted passage which does no justice to his (and the Marxists') theoretical virtuosity. Even so, the apparent superficiality of the claim may well obscure the significance of it. And since we here at Digressionsnnimpressions, live by the Dutch proverb, wie kleine niet eert is het grote niet weerd, [google it] we embrace even the solidly superficial.

Let me do a quick set up. Liberalism and Marxism both have theories of imperialism and the way it connects to political economy, rent-seeking and militarism. The paradigmatic forms of these are offered by Hobson (the liberal) and Lenin (who stands in for Marxism here). And because Lenin explicitly drew on Hobson, this allows for some comparison and shared commitments. 

Both (recall; and here) Hobson and Lenin noticed that (militaristic) imperialism and monopoly were mutually reinforcing. For Hobson (in 1902), monopoly capitalism was the effect of rent-seeking political behavior (by corrupt, imperial, financial interests). Lenin (ca 1916) didn't deny this, but he also thought that capitalism had an inevitable tendency toward monopoly and cartels, and imperialism (the search for monopoly markets overseas) is an effect of this tendency. Lenin's position doesn't just build (explicitly) on Hobson's position, but it can also grant (admittedly not in Lenin's character) that counterfactually even if Lenin were wrong about the causal arrow, Hobson lacks a political or economic solution to the problem Hobson diagnoses.

As regular readers know, (recall) my interest in Schumpeter here is motivated by Foucault's use of Schumpter in Lecture 7, The Birth of Biopolitics, 21 February 1979. There, Schumpeter represents a sophisticated version of the Leninist insight in response to Hobson. In Foucault's re-telling Schumpter agrees with Hobson that markets do not have an "inherent to the economic process of competition" tendency toward monopoly (BoB, p. 177). But the tendency is a social effect of, and caused by, the "concentration of decision-making centers of the administration and the state" (p. 177). This concentration is, itself, the effect of the kind of modernization that modern capitalism promotes (and facilitates). This makes rent-seeking easier, and also the centralized decisionmakers of administration and the state have a natural desire for counterparts in industry (to reduce coordination costs), which, in turn, facilitates an extrinsic tendency toward monopoly (and so Socialism is inevitable, alas). Schumpeter then adds for good measure that socialism while not ideal may be a price worth paying.

There is a lot more to be said about Foucault's use of Schumpeter. But it is worth noting that Foucault ignores Schumpeter's criticisms of the neo-Marxist theory of imperialism. I now see this has a huge impact on the Birth of Biopolitics because in his third lecture (of 24 January, 1979), Foucault quietly embraces (recall) a version of the neo-Marxist theory of imperialism. About that more some other time.

So, why does it matter that according to Schumpeter monopoly capitalism is responsible for imperialism. First, because as Schumpeter explicitly notes, within Marxist analysis of capitalism, monopoly is supposed to be the effect of a dynamic internal to capitalism and simultaneous with the age of imperialism (see Chapter IV of Lenin's The State and Revolution). That is it comes at the end of capitalist development. According to some (a bit less orthodox) it is supposed to be a very late stage before fascism as (recall) Karl Mannheim and/or Karl Polanyi thought (recall herehere).

By contrast, ever since Adam Smith's account of mercantilism, liberalism predominantly understands itself as an ameliorative and mitigating response to the mercantile-state and its imperial ambitions (this also comprises Bentham, Cobden, and Bright). The liberal treats mercantilism as a species of monopoly capitalism. In addition she denies that monopoly capitalism expresses the true nature of capitalism. So, here Schumpeter echoes the traditional liberal self-understanding. That Schumpeter is self-consciously echoing Smith on this point can be proved because he praises Smith's account of imperialism explicitly on the next page!

As an aside, since most students' introductions to the history of liberalism comes through J.S. Mill. And because Mill was an attenuated defender of civilizational mission of empire (and an employee of the India Company), the traditional liberal self-understanding is invisible to students (and critics) of liberalism.*

I don't mean to suggest only a traditional liberal can explain the phenomenon of early monopoly capitalism and its imperialism. Belloc, who is no liberal, can explain it just as adequately with his account of the rise of a narrow, and early oligarchy through the actions of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.  

I don't mean to suggest that this exhausts Schumpeter's criticism of the neo-Marxist account of imperialism. He goes on to argue that class struggle does worse as an explanatory feature of imperialism which he treats as exemplary in providing class cooperation among Europeans. (Although he recognizes that one might reinterpret the Marxist account by treating all the Europeans as exploiters and the natives as exploited classes.) 

And I certainly don't mean to suggest a Marxist needs to capitulate at the sight of Schumpeter's argument. (Which I did suggest has a hint of superficiality to it.) A Marxist may well resists the liberal idea that there are different kinds of capitalism. And may well respond by rejecting the Leninist narrative of imperialism.


*Again, I don't mean to deny there weren't other liberals who also made their peace with the reality of empire in all kinds of ways damning to the liberal tradition. 


On Hobhouse, Hayek, Belloc (pt 3) and the Road to Serfdom.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/06/2022 - 8:33pm in


Hayek, Marxism

Up to this point a thoroughly consistent individualism can work in harmony with socialism, and it is this partial alliance which has, in fact, laid down the lines of later Liberal finance. The great Budget of 1909 had behind it the united forces of Socialist and individualist opinion. It may be added that there is a fourth form of monopoly which would be open to the same double attack, but it is one of which less has been heard in Great Britain than in the United States. It is possible under a competitive system for rivals to come to an agreement. The more powerful may coerce the weaker, or a number of equals may agree to work together. Thus competition may defeat itself, and industry may be marshalled into trusts or other combinations for the private advantage against the public interest. Such combinations, predicted by Karl Marx as the appointed means of dissolving the competitive system, have been kept at bay in this country by Free Trade. Under Protection they constitute the most urgent problem of the day. Even here the railways, to take one example, are rapidly moving to a system of combination, the economies of which are obvious, while its immediate result is monopoly, and its assured end is nationalization.

Thus individualism, when it grapples with the facts, is driven no small distance along Socialist lines. Once again we have found that to maintain individual freedom and equality we have to extend the sphere of social control. But to carry through the real principles of Liberalism, to achieve social liberty and living equality of rights, we shall have to probe still deeper. We must not assume any of the rights of property as axiomatic. We must look at their actual working and consider how they affect the life of society. We shall have to ask whether, if we could abolish all monopoly on articles of limited supply, we should yet have dealt with all the causes that contribute to social injustice and industrial disorder, whether we should have rescued the sweated worker, afforded to every man adequate security for a fair return for an honest day's toil, and prevented the use of economic advantage to procure gain for one man at the expense of another. .--Hobhouse (1911) Liberalism Chapter IV ("Laissez Faire")

A few weeks ago, I noted in two related posts (here and here) that Hayek credits Belloc's (1912) The Servile State with articulating a road to serfdom thesis. To be sure, it's well known that road to serfdom theses predate Bellow in texts familiar to Hayek and Mises. In Book 4, chapter 1, of Democracy in America, Tocqueville claims that the principle of equality generates a 'road to servitude.' But while the phrase seems to have inspired Hayek, it would be a mistake to treat Tocqueville's version of the road to serfdom as providing the template for Belloc and Hayek (and Mises). Tocqueville is not diagnosing the effects of a welfare state or state capitalism. In my earlier posts I also noted that Belloc's own favored alternative is more akin to a property-owning democracy than anything one might wish to associate with Hayek's version of neoliberalism. So, while the Austrian economists' road to serfdom is modelled on Belloc's template, their substantive commitments differ (recall Ed McPhail here).
Be that as it may, I am pretty sure that Belloc was familiar with Hobhouse's writings and I would be a bit surprised if he had not read Liberalism before he wrote The Servile State. In fact, I can readily imagine that The Servile State, which is really a (1912) pamphlet unencumbered by any citations, was triggered by the very passage I have quoted above. Regardless whether that speculative hypothesis is correct, Belloc is clearly reacting to the kind of developments articulated and celebrated by Hobhouse in passages like the ones above in his Liberalism (on it recall also here; here).
One telling reason for thinking that Belloc is responding to this particular passage is Hobhouse's claim about the "fourth form of monopoly which would be open to the same double attack, but it is one of which less has been heard in Great Britain than in the United States." Much of Section Five of The Servile State, is devoted to alerting his readers to how familiar "the numerous Trusts which now control English industry," really are to the public. Belloc describes in colorful detail how this facilitates what we would call rent-seeking and the corruption of the rule of law, even impartiality of the courts. And "the reason" that they are little discussed "is that political freedom is not, as a fact, protected here by the Courts in commercial affairs."* The point, which involves a kind of conspiracy of silence among elites, is essential to Belloc's argument" "it must always be remembered that these conspiracies in restraint of trade which are the mark of modern England are in themselves a mark of the transition from the true Capitalist phase to another" more servile one.
Now, Hobhouse himself is clearly not a friend of monopoly as such. But he does seem to accept the Marxist idea that monopoly capitalism is inevitable, especially in non-tradeable industries and services. Hobhouse also seems to accept Hobson's diagnosis (recall) about the reciprocal relationship between empire, militarism, and monopoly (see, especially, chapter IX of Liberalism), although Hobhouse is less obsessed with the influence of finance.
Crucially, while Hobhouse is a critic of a variety of socialisms (recall), Hobhouse treats various kinds of state capitalism as inevitable in such areas (the "assured end is nationalization.")_Beloc, by contrast, claims that such piecemeal nationalization is financially and politically impossible (in a society where both capital and labour can organize). And so the state transforms into one where corporate monopolies are accepted and become a controlling arm of the welfare state (and its interests control it in turn). Belloc's despotism is one in which the state mandates large corporations to do its job, and in which many coercive welfare provisions ultimately undermine the freedom of employees. As Belloc discerns, this will also undermine political freedoms. Belloc's fears strike me as rather prescient.
But for present purposes, the key point here is that Hobhouse accepts that there is an underlying dynamic of capitalism that requires an ever expanding welfare state to manage and ameliorate it:

On all sides we find the State making active provision for the poorer classes and not by any means for the destitute alone. We find it educating the children, providing medical inspection, authorizing the feeding of the necessitous at the expense of the ratepayers, helping them to obtain employment through free Labour Exchanges, seeking to organize the labour market with a view to the mitigation of unemployment, and providing old age pensions for all whose incomes fall below thirteen shillings a week, without exacting any contribution.--Chapter VII ("The State and the Individual.")

The underlying purpose is not, to be sure, the management of capitalism. Rather, it is "to secure the conditions upon which mind and character [of individuals] may develop themselves." This is, in fact, the Mill-ian individualist strain (as developed by T.H. Green) with its commitment to individual authenticity and autonomy in Hobhouse. And while iI doubt Hayek was familiar with Hobhouse (see below), Hayek clearly intuited that Mill was the source behind the strain of modern permissiveness he decried (see this post by me; and this one by Erwin Dekker.) Belloc's response is to claim that the very conditions that are meant to secure such freedom ultimately, through a slippery slope, undermine it.+

In the appendix to his (1927) Liberalism: the Classical Tradition, Mises treats Hobhouse's Liberalism as an instance of 'moderate socialism' and as one of the exemplars of the modern change of meaning of 'liberalism.' (One need not agree with Mises to notice that this contestation of the revised meaning of 'liberalism' really pre-dates the New Deal.) To the best of my knowledge neither Mises nor Hayek acknowledge that Hobhouse has developed the framework of the road to serfdom. Hobhouse anticipates the crucial features of the slippery slope argument that Belloc and Hayek articulate. But rather than treating these features as a descent, he treats them as an ascent.

Belloc and Mises refuse to acknowledge the presence of any such individualism in the Hobhouse program. Belloc consistently describes it as 'collectivism.' This is not altogether unfair because earlier Hobhouse had been an articulate defender of 'collectivism' before (see this (1898) paper "The Ethical Basis of Collectivism," in International Journal of Ethics.) 

What's interesting to me here, in conclusion, is that in Road to Serfdom Hayek uses Belloc's template articulated in response to the the developments championed by Hobhouse to challenge the much more far-reaching welfare state envisioned in the Beveridge plan. For Hayek, England is going down the dangerous road initiated by Bismarck in Germany. Here follows the final twist in the story.

As Hayek notes ruefully near the conclusion of Road to Serfdom, "there is no lack of sympathetic treatment of Bismarck in contemporary English literature, the name of Gladstone is rarely mentioned by the younger generation without a sneer over his Victorian morality and naïve utopianism" (p. 188) Hobhouse died in 1929 and is surely not Hayek's intended target. But I doubt Hayek ever realized how much he is echoing Hobhouse here. Hobhouse's 1898 paper is itself a response to the authoritarianism of "Bismarck's State Socialism" (p. 143).** And his Liberalism has a whole chapter (VI) treating Gladstone as the exemplary liberal statesman who understands the liberal art of government. 

Hobhouse is largely absent as an interlocuter for the liberals who came together at the Lippmann colloquium and later the Mont Pelerin Society. They largely treat the period in which he writes as decades of retreat from the ideals of true liberalism, as decades in which empire, militarism, and monopoly encroach on true individualism. And so they end up obscuring, I think, that the liberal contribution to welfare state was itself intended to promote a species of individualism in the process often battling the influence of the same figures that Hayek fought against. 

*I have slightly rearranged Belloc's words, but not his point.
+Belloc thinks this is also an effect of the oligarchic initial conditions that preceded the development of modern capitalism.
**In fact, Belloc and Mises miss to what extent by 1911 Hobhouse had really re-embraced key features of nineteenth century liberal creed. (That's for another time.)

Hobhouse & Foucault on the Socialist Art of Government (with a nod to Luxemburg), 31 January 1979, Episode XXXXIV

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/06/2022 - 12:36am in


Marxism, Politics

In short, whether or not there is a theory of the state in Marx is for Marxists to decide. As for myself, I would say that what socialism lacks is not so much a theory of the state as a governmental reason, the definition of what a governmental rationality would be in socialism, that is to say, a reasonable and calculable measure of the extent, modes, and objectives of governmental action. Michel Foucault, 31 January 1979,  translated by Graham Burchell, Lecture 4, The Birth of Biopolitics. 92

Foucault (recall also here) famously denies that socialism has an art of government. And notably he does not seem inclined to supply one. That's notable, especially, because the 1979 lectures do supply several variants of a liberal art of government.

But that socialism lacks an art of government is by no means obvious. In chapter VIII, of T.L. Hobhouse's (1911) Liberalism, Hobhouse distinguishes between 'official' and 'mechanical' socialism. These are, to be sure, kinds of socialism Hobhouse rejects. (He is by no means a fierce critic of other kinds of socialism.) It turns out that mechanical socialism lacks an art of government (about which more below), but that 'official socialism' does have one: 

Official Socialism is a creed of different brand. Beginning with a contempt for ideals of liberty based on a confusion between liberty and competition, it proceeds to a measure of contempt for average humanity in general. It conceives mankind as in the mass a helpless and feeble race, which it is its duty to treat kindly. True kindness, of course, must be combined with firmness, and the life of the average man must be organized for his own good. He need not know that he is being organized. The socialistic organization will work in the background, and there will be wheels within wheels, or rather wires pulling wires. Ostensibly there will be a class of the elect, an aristocracy of character and intellect which will fill the civil services and do the practical work of administration. Behind these will be committees of union and progress who will direct operations, and behind the committees again one or more master minds from whom will emanate the ideas that are to direct the world. The play of democratic government will go on for a time, but the idea of a common will that should actually undertake the organization of social life is held the most childish of illusions. The master minds can for the moment work more easily through democratic forms, because they are here, and to destroy them would cause an upheaval. But the essence of government lies in the method of capture. The ostensible leaders of democracy are ignorant creatures who can with a little management be set to walk in the way in which they should go, and whom the crowd will follow like sheep. The art of governing consists in making men do what you wish without knowing what they are doing, to lead them on without showing them whither until it is too late for them to retrace their steps. Socialism so conceived has in essentials nothing to do with democracy or with liberty. It is a scheme of the organization of life by the superior person, who will decide for each man how he should work, how he should live, and indeed, with the aid of the Eugenist, whether he should live at all or whether he has any business to be born. At any rate, if he ought not to have been born—if, that is, he comes of a stock whose qualities are not approved—the Samurai will take care that he does not perpetuate his race.

This account of official socialism, which at the time was not reality anywhere, anticipates key features of Burnham's experience based account of managerial socialism (and capitalism) in the (1941; recall) Managerial Revolution. We might also call it 'Leninist/managerial or ethnic biopolitics' (notice the role of eugenics). Presumably Hobhouse has not Lenin, but the Webbs (he mentions them in the next chapter) or George Bernard Shaw in mind. It's the kind of 'government house' socialism we find satirized, if it is that, later in Huxley's Brave New World. One can agree with Hobhouse that a 'noble lying' socialism in the services of an intellectual avant-garde in charge of planning and population control is not very attractive.

From the perspective of Foucault's treatment of socialism in 1979, I note three important features in Hobhouse's analysis. First, the bio-political element is clearly not limited to neoliberalism. Or to be precise, neoliberal biopolitics shares roots with the official socialist kind in English radicalism's response to Malthus and Darwin. Second, Hobhouse clearly does not think he needs to offer arguments against official socialism once he has unmasked it. In part, that's because he thinks his own brand of liberalism has moved beyond Manchester's focus on 'competition' and has a more solid conception of 'liberty' (based on ideas derived from J.S. Mill and T.H. Green.*) In part, because he seems to think once a program devoted to deception has been unmasked it becomes impotent (that strikes me as a mistake or naivete).

Third, Foucault's comment is offered in the context of the German SDP's (1959) commitment (at Bad Godesberg) not just to reformist Bernsteinism, but to the "economic-political consensus of German liberalism" as articulated in the Ordoliberal ideals of a social market economy. Either way, the art of government on offer from official socialism as presented by Hobhouse is indeed unattractive as an art of government for a mass party committed to democratic ideals, Enlightenment, and an ordered market economy. 

As an aside, part of my interest in Hobhouse (1864 –1929) is, in fact, motivated by seeing his (left) Liberalism (about which some other time more) as a possible route toward Ordoliberalism. There are important differences between the ORDOs and Hobhouse's liberalism, but there also commonalities. To be sure, there is little interest in Hobhouse among the main first generation ORDOs. And I suspect that Hobhouse's absence in the neoliberal literature prevents Foucault from drawing on him.

But I learned from a forthcoming paper by Stefan Kolev and Ekkehard A. Köhler, "Transatlantic Roads to Mont Pèlerin: “Old Chicago” and Freiburg in a World of Disintegrating Orders," that the ORDOs themselves were shaped by the Berlin economist and sociologist, Heinrich Herkner (1863–1932). Herkner was one of the key left-Liberal thinkers of the Weimar age, and in the very work that inspired the ORDOs revisionism from classical liberalism, he was, in fact, also an ardent admirer of Hobhouse's Liberalism (see especially his Sozialpolitischer Liberalismus (1925), p. 39.).

Be that as it may, in the same chapter (in fact, in the previous paragraph) of Liberalism, Hobhouse also rejects another kind of socialism:

Mechanical Socialism is founded on a false interpretation of history. It attributes the phenomena of social life and development to the sole operation of the economic factor, whereas the beginning of sound sociology is to conceive society as a whole in which all the parts interact. The economic factor, to take a single point, is at least as much the effect as it is the cause of scientific invention. There would be no world-wide system of telegraphy if there was no need of world-wide intercommunication. But there would be no electric telegraph at all but for the scientific interest which determined the experiments of Gauss and Weber. Mechanical Socialism, further, is founded on a false economic analysis which attributes all value to labour, denying, confounding or distorting the distinct functions of the direction of enterprise, the unavoidable payment for the use of capital, the productivity of nature, and the very complex social forces which, by determining the movements of demand and supply actually fix the rates at which goods exchange with one another. Politically, mechanical Socialism supposes a class war, resting on a clear-cut distinction of classes which does not exist. Far from tending to clear and simple lines of cleavage, modern society exhibits a more and more complex interweaving of interests, and it is impossible for a modern revolutionist to assail "property" in the interest of "labour" without finding that half the "labour" to which he appeals has a direct or indirect interest in "property." As to the future, mechanical Socialism conceives a logically developed system of the control of industry by government. [emphasis added]

We can recognize in the contours of 'mechanical socialism' a Marxist edifice with its commitment to the labor theory of value, class warfare, and a materialist conception of history. What's notable is that unlike the 'official Socialism,' which he simply unmasked, Hobson feels the need to argue against the 'mechanical socialist.' This suggests to me that Hobhouse takes it as a more dangerous and more plausible alternative to his own views.

Regardless what one thinks of the merits of Hobhouse's criticism of 'mechanical socialism,' my present interest is in the following passage (which anticipates Foucault's observations on the absence of an art of government in socialism):

Of this all that need be said is that the construction of Utopias is not a sound method of social science; that this particular Utopia makes insufficient provision for liberty, movement, and growth; and that in order to bring his ideals into the region of practical discussion, what the Socialist needs is to formulate not a system to be substituted as a whole for our present arrangements but a principle to guide statesmanship in the practical work of reforming what is amiss and developing what is good in the actual fabric of industry. A principle so applied grows if it has seeds of good in it, and so in particular the collective control of industry will be extended in proportion as it is found in practice to yield good results. The fancied clearness of Utopian vision is illusory, because its objects are artificial ideas and not living facts. The "system" of the world of books must be reconstructed as a principle that can be applied to the railway, the mine, the workshop, and the office that we know, before it can even be sensibly discussed. The evolution of Socialism as a practical force in politics has, in point of fact, proceeded by such a reconstruction, and this change carries with it the end of the materialistic Utopia. [emphasis added]

Part of Hobhouse's polemical point is that for mechanical socialism to have an art of government requires it to forego Utopianism and become more like his own, piecemeal ameliorative (reformist) liberalism.+ And this means that in many ways it has to be an applied practice informed by concrete policy challenges emanating in particular sectors of the economy (and social life). I am going to leaving aside the well known dangers of reformism (for a revolutionary Marxism). What's notable about Hobhouse's position is that while it is compatible with a kind of technocratic pragmatism problem-solving specific sectorial problems, it also echoes the kind of view (recall) that Rosa Luxemburg (ca 1904) articulates, of a bottom up, local "often spontaneous class struggle seeking its way."

That is to say, while Foucault and Hobhouse both explicitly deny that socialism has an art of government that is compatible with democratic life (and Foucault insists that what passes for an art of government within Marxism is no better than a police state), Hobhouse de facto articulates a social-democratic art of government on behalf of a reformist socialism that is not far from his own social liberalism. I won't surprise you, I suspect, that Hobhouse's point is very much in the service for a political parliamentary alliance between liberalism and social democracy that he advocates.**  

*"the teaching of Green and the enthusiasm of Toynbee were setting Liberalism free from the shackles of an individualist conception of liberty and paving the way for the legislation of our own time." 

+From my vantage point this is very Smithian in character. And some other time, I hope to return to this.

**UPDATE: I thank Zoltán Gábor Szűcs for catching a number of errors in an earlier version of this post.

Belloc's Road to Serfdom thesis, Pt2

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/05/2022 - 2:36am in


Hayek, Marxism

Substitute for the term “employee” in one of our new laws the term “serf,” even do so mild a thing as to substitute the traditional term “master” for the word “employer,” and the blunt words might breed revolt. Impose of a sudden the full conditions of a Servile State upon modern England, and it would certainly breed revolt. But my point is that when the foundations of the thing have to be laid and the first great steps taken, there is no revolt; on the contrary, there is acquiescence and for the most part gratitude upon the part of the poor. After the long terrors imposed upon them through a freedom unaccompanied by property, they see, at the expense of losing a mere legal freedom, the very real prospect of having enough and not losing it.
   All forces, then, are making for the Servile State in this the final phase of our evil Capitalist society in England. The generous reformer is canalised towards it; the ungenerous one finds it a very mirror of his ideal; the herd of “practical” men meet at every stage in its inception the “practical” steps which they expected and demanded; while that proletarian mass upon whom the experiment is being tried because, by the nature of the case, only landowners can be affected by the law, and landowners would be compelled by it to safeguard the lives of all, whether they were or were not owners of land.
    But the category so established would be purely accidental. The object and method of the law do not concern themselves with a distinction between citizens.
A close observer might indeed discover certain points in the Factory laws, details and phrases, which did distinctly connote the existence of a Capitalist and of a Proletarian class. But we must take the statutes as a whole and the order in which they were produced, above all, the general motive and expressions governing each main statute, in order to judge whether such examples of interference give us an origin or not.
    The verdict will be that they do not. Such legislation may be oppressive in any degree or necessary in any degree, but it does not establish status in the place of contract, and it is not, therefore, servile.
    Neither are those laws servile which in practice attach to the poor and not to the rich. Compulsory education is in legal theory required of every citizen for his children. The state of mind which goes with plutocracy exempts of course all above a certain standard of wealth from this law. But the law does apply to the universality of the commonwealth, and all families resident in Great Britain (not in Ireland) are subject to its provisions.
   These are not origins. A true origin to the legislation I approach comes later. The first example of servile legislation to be discovered upon the Statute Book is that which establishes the present form of Employer’s Liability.--Hilaire Belloc (1912 [2nd edition] The Servile State, Section Nine ("The Servile State Has Begun")

As I noted in my first post on Belloc (recall), Hayek mentions The Servile State approvingly in The Road to Serfdom. The book is is quite clearly one of the founding texts of what shortly thereafter came to be known as 'property owning democracy' (as Ben Jackson notes here.) In addition, Belloc does anticipate a road to serfdom thesis (although surely does not originate it--it's in Tocqueville and probably earlier), but it's not Hayek's (or Mises') version (Edward McPhail has a lovely paper explaining that it here). It's worth taking a look at because in some ways, Belloc's road to serfdom thesis is an attractive alternative to both the Austrian (Hayekian/Misesian) road to serfdom thesis, and the Marxist one (articulated by Karl Polanyi [recall]) which suggests that capitalism naturally leads to fascism (or worse).

The quoted passage should give a hint of why Hayek would have liked Belloc. It's pretty clear that for Belloc the road to serfdom is fatally initiated once liability law distinguishes citizens between two kinds: employers and employees. This breaks, for him, the symmetry of all contracts. And on Belloc's view, a whole range of legislation, which puts the onus on employers regardless of merits or responsibilities of individual circumstances is not ground in, say, the ability to pay of deep pockets or in considerations of duties of care or basic fairness or Christian charity (or recognition that some employees may have severely limited options between certain kind of work or starvation),* but rather in a modern kind of paternalism. Here's how Belloc puts it a few pages after the passage quoted above: 

Still more striking, as an example of status taking the place of contract, is the fact that this law puts the duty of controlling the proletariat and of seeing that the law is obeyed not upon the proletariat itself, but upon the Capitalist class.

But he sees in such paternalist legislation the start of a tendency, a fatal tendency, in which employers control the workers on behalf of a quasi-permanent status quo. The capitalist class will also help collect taxes for the state. (This is rather prescient--for in our times corporations end up collecting a good chunk of employees' taxes in the form of various withholdings.) For while at first paternalist legislation may seem to benefit the workers, at bottom the advantages to the state of corporations as tax collectors and agents of control of working classes -- and the very high costs involved in removing capitalists altogether -- will induce the state to help secure a relatively docile workforce for the the capitalist class in which collective bargaining will serve the interests of those at the negotiating table, but not those unrepresented. 

Writing a century ago (but in the wake of Bismarck's welfare programs), Belloc argues that over time the welfare state will evolve two permanent classes: rulers and ruled. And while the ruled will have their lives preserved and a kind of permanent employment guarantee, which will be "necessarily transformed into a system of compulsory labor" (or what is now known as 'workfare'). The workers can expect to experience state violence if they wish to challenge this permanent arrangement.

The end-state of this state of affairs is one in which property rights of the capitalist class are secured, in which the working poor are guaranteed a basic income if and only if they work, and in which only the capitalist class has full citizenship. Of the road to serfdom theses this one has non-trivial plausibility to be our future judging by many dystopiab Hollywood movies.

To be sure, Belloc does not think this outcome inevitable in all capitalist structures, but if the initial conditions for the rise of capitalism are oligarchic (as he thinks occurred in England as a result of Henry VIII's confiscation of the monasteries and distribution of these lands to a limited number of cronies) this particular outcome is necessary. So, lurking in Belloc's argument -- he is not shy about this -- is a kind of argument for limiting excessive income inequality. In the lingo of Ingrid Robeyns, Belloc is a limitarian. To be continued. 

*Belloc recognizes this point earlier in the text. He has a whole theory of biopolitics I return to some day.

An Alternative to the Marxist-Liberal Debate, Belloc and The Servile State (pt 1)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/05/2022 - 3:44am in

A peasantry eager to purchase might have gradually extended their holdings at the expense of the demesne land, and to the distribution of property, which was already fairly complete, there might have been added another excellent element, namely, the more equal possession of that property. But any such process of gradual buying by the small man from the great, such as would seem natural to the temper of us European people, and such as has since taken place nearly everywhere in countries which were left free to act upon their popular instincts, was interrupted in this country by an artificial revolution of the most violent kind. This artificial revolution consisted in the seizing of the monastic lands by the Crown.
It is important to grasp clearly the nature of this operation, for the whole economic future of England was to flow from it.
Of the demesne lands, and the power of local administration which they carried with them (a very important feature, as we shall see later), rather more than a quarter were in the hands of the Church ; the Church was therefore the “Lord” of something over 25 per cent., say 28 per cent., or perhaps nearly 30 per cent., of English agricultural communities, and the overseers of a like proportion of all English agricultural produce. The Church was further the absolute owner in practice of something like 30 per cent, of the demesne land in the villages, and the receiver of something like 30 per cent, of the customary dues, etc., paid by the maller owners to the greater. All this economic power lay until 1535 in the hands of Cathedral Chapters, communities of monks and nuns, educational establishments conducted by the clergy, and so forth.
When the Monastic lands were confiscated by Henry VIII., not the whole of this vast economic influence was suddenly extinguished. The secular clergy remained endowed, and most of the educational establishments, though looted, retained some revenue; but though the whole 30 per cent, did not suffer confiscation, something well over 20 per cent, did, and the revolution effected by this vast operation was by far the most complete, the most sudden, and the most momentous of any that has taken place in the economic history of any European people.
It was at first intended to retain this great mass of the means of production in the hands of the Crown: that must be clearly remembered by any student of the fortunes of England, and by all who marvel at the contrast between the old England and the new.
Had that intention been firmly maintained, the English State and its government would have been the most powerful in Europe.
The Executive (which in those days meant the King) would have had a greater opportunity for crushing the resistance of the wealthy, for backing its political power with economic power, and for ordering the social life of its subjects than any other executive in Christendom.
Had Henry VIII. and his successors kept the land thus confiscated, the power of the French Monarchy, at which we are astonished, would have been nothing to the power of the English.
The King of England would have had in his own hands an instrument of control of the most absolute sort. He would presumably have used it, as a strong central government always does, for the weakening of the wealthier classes, and to the indirect advantage of the mass of the people. At any rate, it would have been a very different England indeed from the England we know, if the King had held fast to his own after the dissolution of the monasteries.
Now it is precisely here that the capital point in this great revolution appears. The King failed to keep the lands he had seized. That class of large landowners which already existed and controlled, as I have said, anything from a quarter to a third of the agricultural values of England, were too strong for the monarchy. They insisted upon land being granted to themselves, sometimes freely, sometimes for ridiculously small sums, and they were strong enough in Parliament, and through the local administrative power they had, to see that their demands were satisfied. Nothing that the Crown let go ever went back to the Crown, and year after year more and more of what had once been the monastic land became the absolute possession of the large land-owners...Hilaire Belloc (1912 [2nd edition] The Servile State, Chapter IV ("How the Distributive State Failed")

Hayek mentions The Servile State in The Road to Serfdom., and so I was curious about the connection. (I had never heard Beloc before.) The book is very brief and written in an engaging style, and it's full of stimulating observations. It's a bit peculiar I had never chanced upon it before because it is quite clearly one of the founding texts of what shortly thereafter came to be known as property owning democracy. (I was pleased to find Ben Jackson claim this a decade ago, too here.) In addition, Belloc does really anticipate a road to serfdom thesis (although surely does not originate it--it's in Tocqueville and probably earlier), but it's clearly not Hayek's (or Mises') version (Edward McPhail has a lovely paper explaining that it here). I intend to blog a bit about in the future -- not the least because of his description of biopolitics and his analysis of corporate welfare state.

But today, I want to do a more lighthearted piece. As is well known Marxists and Liberals have a fierce debate over the origin of capitalism (which on the liberal side is treated as the origin of mercantilism to which liberalism is a response.) On the Marxist side -- recall (here) my digression on Meiksins Wood and Adam Smith (and this follow up) --, capitalism emerges when term-limit leases are introduced in agriculture and the price of these leases are determined by an estimation by surveyors of the value of that land after improvement in light of prevailing, or at the least the abstract perception of prevailing, market conditions. And this, in turn, sets a landgrab in motion in which enclosures are forced on a politically weak rural population who live out a kind of natural communism. And this violence generates the 'productivity of property,' which gets capitalism going (which liberals will call Mercantilism).

As an aside, some Liberals have a tendency to treat the 'productivity of property' in consequentialist fashion as unequivocally a good thing. The other day, for example, I noticed that in The Constitution of Liberty (1960), Hayek mentions, in passing (while discussing mid twentieth century agriculture), that "there can be little question that the consolidation of dispersed holdings inherited in Europe from the Middle Ages or the enclosures of the commons in England were necessary legislative measures to make improvements by individual efforts possible." (p. 488-489 [Hamowy edition]; emphasis added). It's the kind of passage that gives critics and even friends of Hayek pause--he clearly thinks that some transitionary violence can be justified for the end it serves (but will not dwell on it).

Okay, if we turn to Belloc, he posits a kind of golden age (he calls it an "excellent state of affairs"): the distributed state: in which property was very widely distributed and guilds and country customs conspired to keep income and property inequality to a relative minimum. And the first quoted paragraph above gives his very schematic model for the natural course of events of the evolution of the distributed state. It's not a pure counterfactual (as in Smith's natural course in Book 3 of Wealth of Nations) because Belloc also suggests this natural evolution happened in France. (That's an odd claim, but let's ignore it.) But in England this natural evolution was interrupted by an artificial revolution: Henry VIII's landgrab of the monasteries.

Now, because of the weakness of the sixteenth century English royal family, the landgrab ends up reinforcing and creating a more durable oligarchy with a weak monarchy and a more powerless rural population.* Belloc tells what happens next:

All over England men who already held in virtually absolute property from one-quarter to one-third of the soil and the ploughs and the barns of a village, became possessed in a very few years of a further great section of the means of production, which turned the scale wholly in their favour. They added to that third a new and extra-fifth. They became at a blow the owners of half the land! In many centres of capital importance they had come to own more than half the land. They were in many districts not only the unquestioned superiors, but the economic masters of the rest of the community. They could buy to the greatest advantage.

The world-historical significance of this is as follows meant that before the industrial revolution, England was already an oligarchic state. 

Take, as a starting-point for what followed, the date 1700. By that time more than half of the English were dispossessed of capital and of land. Not one man in two, even if you reckon the very small owners, inhabited a house of which he was the secure possessor, or tilled land from which he could not be turned off.
Such a proportion may seem to us to-day a wonderfully free arrangement, and certainly if nearly one-half of our population were possessed of the means of production, we should be in a very different situation from that in which we find ourselves. But the point to seize is that, though the bad business was very far from completion in or about the year 1700, yet by that date England had already become Capitalist. She had already permitted a vast section of her population to become proletarian, and it is this and not the so-called “Industrial Revolution,” a later thing, which accounts for the terrible social condition in which we find ourselves to-day.

Now, I want to offer four observations about Belloc's story. First, it is an unintended consequence explanation: in which structural forces (pre-existing social arrangements and webs of local corruption) and historical contingency (Henry VIII's rupture with Rome) conspire to upend English economic development.

Second, in so far enclosures figure into his story, they are a late nineteenth century development in which oligarchic capitalism is performing a mopping up operation and they figure in tales of futile resistance by the old and their fathers. 

Third, in Belloc's account there never really was an early revolution in the productivity of property as an engine of history. Rather, it's the application of technology by entrenched wealthy landowners (who also become industrialists).

Fourth, and finally, Belloc is no liberal. But his origin story is a natural one to embrace by liberals who, while distancing themselves from capitalists as a class, want to explain why due to initial conditions capitalism turned mercantile (in which violence was part of its DNA), as (say) Röpke argues. And such liberals might wish to suggest that in so far as there were original sins of capitalism, they were performed by a capricious monarch. Of course, such liberals are scarce on the ground.

*I actually think this is also David Hume's view. But will have to check that.


Lenin and The State's Essential Coerciveness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/03/2022 - 11:52pm in

In what follows I use Lenin's The State and Revolution (1917; hereafter S&R quoted by chapter and section) as my guide to an orthodox Marxist interpretation of Marx and Engels on the nature of the late nineteenth century capitalist-imperial state. It's perfectly fine for my purposes if you think that Lenin flattened Marx and Engels or misrepresents them (or the evolution of their thought, etc.). It's also fine for my purposes if you think that this is not the best version of a Marxist theory (orthodox or not) of the capitalist state out there. 

Drawing on Engels' fascinating (1884) The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, for Lenin the modern state is the effect of class conflict; the state exists in order, it's fundamental function is, to reduce the transaction costs of class conflict. As Engels puts it: "in order that these antagonisms, classes with conflicting economic interests, shall not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, a power, apparently standing above society, has become necessary to moderate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of “order”; and this power, arisen out of society, but placing itself above it and increasingly alienating itself from it, is the state." This independent power understands itself "as apparent mediator." In some respects (I will qualify this below) this anticipates the idea familiar from twentieth century neoliberalism which conceives of the state as an "impartial umpire" above civil society (I am quoting the excellent SEP entry on Hayek by Schmidtz and Boettke).

Of course, Marxists emphasize that the mediating role is not truly impartial. It serves the interest of capital. In particular, the bourgeoisie have captured the state for their own interests. As Marx and Engels put it in the Communist Manifesto, "the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie." Or as Lenin puts it, "According to Marx, the state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another; it is the creation of “order”, which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression by moderating the conflict between classes.  (S&R 1,1) It is worth noting that this emphasis on the order creating nature of states anticipates the Ordoliberal self-understanding in non-trivial ways, and also, as I learned from Erwin Dekker's biography of Tinbergen, more technocratic social democrats like Tinbergen, and the young Rawls as Katrina Forrester persuasively argues in the early chapters of In the Shadow of Justice. I return to this below.

While Lenin suggests that bourgeois politicians would deny it, as an empirical matter, it's not difficult for liberal thinkers to agree that late nineteenth century liberal states are characterized by rent-seeking elites biased toward relatively narrow interests. This was, in fact Hobson's view in his (1905) Imperialism -- a book Lenin (recall) studied carefully -- and Lippmann's in his (1937) The Good Society. And it is a familiar refrain from, say, the Chicago school onward in so-called classical liberal understandings of the contemporary state (recall here).

As an aside, Lenin anticipates the view of liberals of the 1930s that the 1870s were a watershed period in the development of the nineteenth century liberal state. As Lenin notes, in commenting on a remark by Marx that it "was understandable in 1871, when Britain was still the model of a purely capitalist country, but without a militarist clique and, to a considerable degree, without a bureaucracy." (3.1) For, in the 1920s and 30s, in reflecting on the collapse the global order during WWI, so-called neo-liberals came to believe that a corruption of liberalism was manifested after the 1870s. (They would tell different stories about the timing and original source of that corruption (compare here with here)

The point of the last few paragraphs is that there is non-trivial overlap between Lenin's Marxist analysis of the period leading up to WWI and the liberal analysis of that same period in the first third of the twentieth century.  This is, as I have shown in a different context (recall), also visible in the accounts of the rise of militarism and imperialism as an effect of national monopoly. A crucial difference is that for Lenin capitalism naturally tends toward monopoly whereas Hobson treats it as an effect of rent-seeking behavior.

I use the language of 'rent-seeking' because the Marxist-Leninist position is that in addition to the exploitation of proletariat by capital, and the structural domination of all under capitalism, government offices and the leading functionaries in the bureaucracy are treated as special rents. This is manifest in the following passage (and others like it): "The bureaucracy and the standing army are a “parasite” on the body of bourgeois society--a parasite created by the internal antagonisms which rend that society, but a parasite which “chokes” all its vital pores." (Lenin S&R, 2,2) I don't mean to deny that in context Lenin's major point is the intrinsically coercive nature of the state. I return to that below. But on the orthodox Marxist view it is notable that the bureaucracy (and the army) is parasitic on the body of bourgeois society. These are rents extracted not just from the proletariat, but even from the bourgeoisie. This is pretty much Hobson's own position. (It is peculiar that Lenin implies this would be denied by "the petty-bourgeois and philistine professors and publicists.")

That is to say, on the Orthodox Marxist view the state is a coercive mechanism for upward redistribution. Further evidence for the claim that the bureaucracy is understood as a source of class based rents can be seen in the proposals what to do with the bureaucracy in the transitional period after a successful revolution (and before the state has withered away): 

At the present the postal service is a business organized on the lines of state-capitalist monopoly. Imperialism is gradually transforming all trusts into organizations of a similar type, in which, standing over the “common” people, who are overworked and starved, one has the same bourgeois bureaucracy. But the mechanism of social management is here already to hand. Once we have overthrown the capitalists, crushed the resistance of these exploiters with the iron hand of the armed workers, and smashed the bureaucratic machinery of the modern state, we shall have a splendidly-equipped mechanism, freed from the “parasite”, a mechanism which can very well be set going by the united workers themselves, who will hire technicians, foremen and accountants, and pay them all, as indeed all “state” officials in general, workmen's wages. Here is a concrete, practical task which can immediately be fulfilled in relation to all trusts, a task whose fulfilment will rid the working people of exploitation, a task which takes account of what the Commune had already begun to practice (particularly in building up the state).

To organize the whole economy on the lines of the postal service so that the technicians, foremen and accountants, as well as all officials, shall receive salaries no higher than "a workman's wage", all under the control and leadership of the armed proletariat--that is our immediate aim. S&R 3,3

After the revolution, functionaries in the bureaucracy will be paid workman's wages, the implication being that their existing wages are a form of extraction, parasitic on proletariat's labor, that is, a rent. I don't mean to suggest that's the extent of the change. Lenin also re-activates ideas I associate with the French revolution (including Girondins intellectuals like Grouchy) in which bureaucrats are elected and subjects to recalls. (For example: "The workers, after winning political power, will smash the old bureaucratic apparatus, shatter it to its very foundations, and raze it to the ground; they will replacce it by a new one, consisting of the very same workers and other employees, against whose transformation into bureaucratic will at once be taken which were specified in detail by Marx and Engels: (1) not only election, but also recall at any time; (2) pay not to exceed that of a workman; (3) immediate introduction of control by all, so that all may become “bureaucrats” for a time and that, therefore, nobody may be able to become a “bureaucrat”. S&R 6, 2; see also 6,3))

Let me wrap up with the crucial issue. While compared to anarchists, liberals tend to expect obedience to legitimate law,  liberals understand the liberal state as providing order without authoritarianism. In fact, the introduction of professional police -- as opposed to citizen militias and armed forces -- is seen as a crucial means forward away from despotism in part because the use of force against civilians can be more calibrated and less lethal than it is when every riot or public disorder is treated as a trigger of military action. And even states in which the mercantile tendency toward state violence is not fully defeated, but only partially tamed by parliament, law, press, and public opinion are often understood as doing so without extensive authoritarianism. (Of course, there are standing objections to this claim during, say, the Jim Crow era, and many periodic states of emergency.)

By contrast, for Lenin [here he is quoting Engels (1891 preface to the third edition of The Civil War in France)], the state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy." (S&R 4.5; see also 2.1) Fundamentally, according to the Marxists we're focusing on here, the modern state is a coercive entity to impose class interests. Lenin (S&R 1.1) quotes Engels to that effect, the state “consists not merely of armed men but also of material adjuncts, prisons, and institutions of coercion of all kinds.” (Engels 1884; ch. 9)

That according to Lenin the most democratic state is essentially coercive is also revealed, by his view of what happens after the revolution:

Democracy is a form of the state, it represents, on the one hand, the organized, systematic use of force against persons; but, on the other hand, it signifies the formal recognition of equality of citizens, the equal right of all to determine the structure of, and to administer, the state. This, in turn, results in the fact that, at a certain stage in the development of democracy, it first welds together the class that wages a revolutionary struggle against capitalism--the proletariat, and enables it to crush, smash to atoms, wipe off the face of the earth the bourgeois, even the republican-bourgeois, state machine, the standing army, the police and the bureaucracy and to substitute for them a more democratic state machine, but a state machine nevertheless, in the shape of armed workers who proceed to form a militia involving the entire population. S&R 5, 4 (Higher phase of communist society)

What's notable about this is that the intrinsic coerciveness of the state is treated as an essential core that must be preserved through the transitionary period (the dictatorship of the proletariat) as a means to destroy class enemies, and to force changes in class structure and the possibility of acquiring rents. As Luxemburg discerned (recall the post earlier in the week) this understanding of the state, and the post-revolutionary transition period, has an inherent fragility; in so far as one leaves the coercive nature of the state untouched, one then opens the door to state capitalism in which a new managerial class extracts rents (as described by Burnham (recall) in The Managerial Revolution).

My point in the previous paragraph is not a victorious one. For, after the work of Foucault, few would be satisfied with the relatively limited list of coercive institutions that the orthodox Marxist tradition focus on. In addition, the last few years of financial crisis and pandemic have shown that liberal states have many instruments of coercion that they can use without fundamentally altering the liberal structure of the state or even traditional political institutions (elections, parliaments, press, rule of law, etc.) Simultaneously, Black Lives Matter has reminded many that even policing can easily be experienced as occupation, or worse. So, what I take away from the Marxist orthodoxy is that for liberalism to have proper self-understanding it needs to have an account of the centrality of the liberal state's coerciveness.** To be continued.



*Part of the interest in S&R is to understand Lenin's view on what happens after the proletarian revolution and the process of withering away of that state (after all this is written in the midst of a revolutionary year), and where appropriate I will remark on this, too.

**This is central to Matt Sleat's fascinating Liberal Realism: A Realist Theory of Liberal Politics, which I read recently. So, this post is undoubtedly shaped by my encounter with Sleat's book.

Luxemberg vs Lenin and a comment on Hayek (and Wieser)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 21/03/2022 - 4:04am in

The history of the Russian labor movement suggests the doubtful value of such centralism. An all-powerful center, invested, as Lenin would have it, with the unlimited right to control and intervene, would be an absurdity if its authority applied only to technical questions, such as the administration of funds, the distribution of tasks among propagandists and agitators, the transportation and circulation of printed matter. The political purpose of an organ having such great powers only if those powers apply to the elaboration of a uniform plan of action, if the central organ assumes the initiative of a vast revolutionary act.

But what has been the experience of the Russian socialist movement up to now? The most important and fruitful changes in its tactical policy during the last ten years have not been the inventions of several leaders and even less so of any central organizational organs. They have always been the spontaneous product of the movement in ferment. This was true during the first stage of the proletarian movement in Russia, which began with the spontaneous general strike of St. Petersburg in 1896, an event that marks the inception of an epoch of economic struggle by the Russian working people. It was no less true during the following period, introduced by the spontaneous street demonstrations of St. Petersburg students in March, 1901. The general strike of Rostov-on-Don, in 1903, marking the next great tactical turn in the Russian proletarian movement, was also a spontaneous act. “All by itself,” the strike expanded into political demonstrations, street agitation, great outdoor meetings, which the most optimistic revolutionist would not have dreamed of several years before.

Our cause made great gains in these events. However, the initiative and conscious leadership of the Social Democratic organizations played an insignificant role in this development. It is true that these organizations were not specifically prepared for such happenings. However, the unimportant part played by the revolutionists cannot be explained by this fact. Neither can it be attributed to the absence of an all-powerful central party apparatus similar to what is asked for by Lenin. The existence of such a guiding center would have probably increased the disorder of the local committees by emphasizing the difference between the eager attack of the mass and the prudent position of the Social Democracy. The same phenomenon – the insignificant part played by the initiative of central party organs in the elaboration of actual tactical policy – can be observed today in Germany and other countries. In general, the tactical policy of the Social Democracy is not something that may be “invented.” It is the product of a series of great creative acts of the often spontaneous class struggle seeking its way forward.--Rosa Luxemburg (1904) "Revolutionary Socialist Organization," part 1.

It is well known that despite their mutual admiration, and their common rejection of reformist/gradualist social democracy ('Bersteinism,') Lenin and Luxemburg also had some important disagreements. The quoted passage is from Luxemburg's response to Lenin's (1904) One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, and shows familiarity with Lenin's (1902) What is to be Done? In these works Lenin had advocated for an all powerful central party apparatus, as Luxemburg suggests. This apparatus was supposed to be secret (to avoid capture by the police) and constituted by an elite group of professional revolutionaries. (Lenin is also very critical of an exclusive, trade unionist focus on economic issues.) Lenin's argument appeals to the benefits of the division of labor among professional revolutionaries to the development of a professional cadre with different kind of specializations (agitators, propagandists, theoreticians, etc.) It is worth noting that the demand for secrecy is an effect of the Russian context (it being an autocratic police-state with few liberties of association), but the focus on professionalism seems less context sensitive for Lenin (nothing that follows hinges this, I hope). 

Luxemburg's intervention on the side of the spontaneous activity is notable not just because she risks being seen to side here, in part, with those gradualists she ordinarily condemns, but also because it appears she rejects the advantages of the division of labor to the revolution. In particular, Lenin's vanguardism solves a kind of knowledge problem for the proletariat which, while being exploited, lacks access to the intellectual tools to plan and organize a revolution. (It's short on human capital one may say.) Because I am not a Marxist, I hope the next part of this sentence is not treated as thinly-disguised-polemic, but it strikes me that Lenin is right to think that his view is well grounded in Marxist-Leninist writings (despite their criticisms of the division of labor under capitalism).* 

As an aside -- this may be more fairly construed as more polemical, but it is meant to be factual observation --, vanguardism does introduce an important tension into Marxism from a purely theoretical point of view. For, one of the key claims on behalf of Marxism, very clearly annunciated in the Communist Manifesto, is that it promises rule by the majority against the minority. And one need not be an Elite theorist to recognize how rare that it is. (The aristocratic element in liberal democracy -- elections to representative bodies -- secures (to be sure, legitimate) minority rule over a majority.) Vanguardism is a clear break with the idea of majority rule, which is why it is promised to be provisional. Of course, the non-trivial risk is that once in power the vanguard becomes a (new) species of elite rule.

So, Luxemburg's attack on the Leninist counterfactual ("The existence of such a guiding center would have probably increased the disorder of the local committees") is not merely an invention over a tactical debate, but also addresses a principled issue for Marxism. And here I want to call attention to two epistemic features of her position that are meant to respond to Lenin's solution to the knowledge problem for a revolutionary proletariat. First, she argues that central coordination does not increase unity and effectiveness, but is likely to cause disorder. And she attributes this to difference of positional or situated perspective which results inevitably in different stances (prudence vs enthusiasm), which itself undermines common agency. Of course, this is not a very convincing response to Lenin because the very enthusiasm of the masses is not sufficient to make a revolution (and often is directed at only local improvement without wider political regard). This is why Luxemburg's second point, the rejection of top-down policy, is significant.

Second, I read her as suggesting that many local struggles are each occasions of learning, trials that may in their very spontaneity and so novelty lead to new discoveries: where conflict induced necessity  generates "great creative acts." Each local trial of strength between the proletariat and the authorities and/or capital provides a feedback mechanism from which to learn in which (the revolutionary consciousness of) the working class is trained. And, in particular, over time this will create a critical mass of "the existence of a large contingent of workers educated in the class struggle" (presumably capable of revolutionary politics). So, from her perspective the temptation of vanguardism is understandable, but with patience (and class struggle) avoidable. 

By contrast, Lenin is quite clear that he thinks this is bunk--that a central clearinghouse is needed to integrate lessons learned and to provide the necessary expertise, to coordinate, and to educate. So, I am not suggesting Luxemburg wins this argument. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight we can see that he was right that vanguardism could achieve real power. But at the same time, Luxemburg was prescient in discerning that such vanguardism would inevitably lead to rule of a minority over a majority (as she notes "the self-discipline of the Social Democracy is not merely the replacement of the authority of bourgeois rulers with the authority of a socialist central committee.")

Now, what I want to note, in conclusion, is that Luxemburg's position on the spontaneous, bottom up education by the proletariat through local struggle is structurally analogous to (recall)the view that Michael Polanyi and then, more famously, Hayek develop in the 1930s on the way learning occurs in markets and the generation of spontaneous order. To be sure, knowledge about the spontaneous order generating features of markets pre-date Luxemburg, so I am not suggesting she influenced their development of the concept, which was already familiar. (And Polanyi is surely influenced by the way 'spontaneous' is used in chemistry and physics of the nineteenth century.) But anyone familiar with debates among Marxists at the start of the twentieth century, will be quickly struck by how important and intense the debate over revolutionary spontaneity is. This debate died circa 1920.

Hayek (1899 – 1992) and Michael Polanyi  (1891 – 1976) came to maturity in the aftermath of this debate. While Polanyi never seems to have flirted with social democracy (and was not especially educated in economics), Hayek was clearly (and un-controversially) influenced by Wieser and charmed by Wieser's 'Fabian socialist' tendencies as a student. The Fabians were the standard-bearers of social democratic gradualism (which is at times compatible, of course, with left liberalism). So, it's worth exploring to what degree Wieser and the young Hayek were themselves enmeshed in, or at least aware of, the debates over the epistemic merits of spontaneous proletarian action. 



*I am always a bit amused that Marxism requires bourgeois or upper class traitors for the revolution to succeed.

Toward A Third Reconstruction: Lessons From The Past For A Socialist Future

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 21/03/2022 - 2:55am in

By Eugene Puryear

Liberation School

March 19, 2022 

The price…of slavery and civil war was the necessity of quickly assimilating into American democracy a mass of laborers…in whose hands alone for the moment lay the power of preserving the ideals of popular government…and establishing upon it an industry primarily for the profit of the workers. It was this price which in the end America refused to pay and today suffers for that refusal.1–W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America


Karl Marx wrote to Lincoln in 1864 that he was sure that the “American anti-slavery war” would initiate a “new era of ascendancy” for the working classes for the “rescue…and reconstruction of a social world”.2 The Black historian Lerone Bennett, writing 100 years later, called Reconstruction, “the most improbable social revolution in American history”.3

Clothed in the rhetoric and incubated within the structure of “American Democracy,” it was nonetheless crushed, drowned in blood, for being far too radical for the actual “American democracy.” While allowing for profit to be made, Reconstruction governments made a claim on the proceeds of commerce for the general welfare. While not shunning wage labor, they demanded fairness in compensation and contracts. Reconstruction demanded the posse and the lynch mob be replaced with juries and the rule of law. This all occurred during a time when the newly minted “great fortunes” brooked no social contract, sought only to degrade labor, and were determined to meet popular discontent with the rope and the gun where the courts or the stuffed ballot box wouldn’t suffice.

The defeat of Reconstruction was the precondition for the ascension of U.S. imperialism. The relevant democratic Reconstruction legislation was seen by elites as “class legislation” and as antithetical to the elites’ needs. The proletarian base of Reconstruction made it into a dangerous potential base for communism, especially as ruling-class fears flared in the wake of the Paris Commune, where the workers of Paris briefly seized power in 1871. The distinguished service of Blacks at all levels of government undermined the gradations of bigotry essential to class construction in the United States.

Reconstruction thus lays bare the relationship between Black freedom and revolution. It helps us situate the particular relationship between national oppression and class struggle that is the key to any real revolutionary strategy for change today.

The new world

Like the Paris Commune, the People’s Republic of China, the Soviet Union, Vietnam and Mozambique, the Reconstruction governments were confronted by the scars of brutal war and long-standing legacies of underdevelopment. They faced tremendous hostility from the local ruling elites and the remnants of their formerly total rule, and were without powerful or terribly well-organized allies outside of the South.

With the status quo shattered, reconstruction could only proceed in a dramatically altered social environment. Plantation rule had been parochial, with power concentrated in the localized despotisms of the forced labor camps, with generalized low taxes, poor schools, and primitive social provisions.

Reconstruction answered:

“Public schools, hospitals, penitentiaries, and asylum for orphans and the insane were established for the first time or received increased funding. South Carolina funded medical care for poor citizens, and Alabama provided free legal counsel for indigent defendants. The law altered relations within the family, widening the grounds for divorce, expanding the property rights for married women, protecting minors from parental abuse… Nashville expanded its medical facilities and provided bread, soup, and firewood to the poor. Petersburg created a thriving school system, regulated hack rates, repaved the streets, and established a Board of Health that provided free medical care in the smallpox epidemic of 1873”.4

And further:

“Throughout Reconstruction, planters complained it was impossible to obtain convictions in cases of theft and that in contract disputes, ‘justice is generally administered solely in the interest of the laborer…’ Equally significant was the regularity with which lawmakers turned down proposals to reinforce labor discipline”.5

South Carolina disallowed garnishing wages to settle debts, Florida regulated the payment of farm hands, and the Mississippi legislature instructed local officials to construe the law “for the protection and encouragement of labor.” All across the South, former slaves assessed the taxable property of their former owners; state after state protected the upcountry farmer from debt, exempting his tools, personal property, and horse and plow from the usurers. In Alabama, personal property tools and livestock were exempt and a Republican newspaper declared that “a man who has nothing should pay no tax”.6

The school-building push resulted in a serious expansion of public education:

“A Northern correspondent in 1873 found adults as well as children crowding Vicksburg schools and reported that “female negro servants make it a condition before accepting a situation, that they should have permission to attend the night-schools.” Whites, too, increasingly took advantage of the new educational opportunities. Texas had 1,500 schools by 1872 with a majority of the state’s children attending classes. In Mississippi, Florida, and South Carolina, enrollment grew steadily until by 1875 it accounted for about half the children of both races”.7

Georgia, which had no public school system at all before the war, had 1,735 schools by 1874. The first public school law in Georgia was passed on the 100-year anniversary, to the day, of Georgia’s slave-era law making it a crime to teach Blacks to read and write.8 In South Carolina, in 1868, 30,000 students attended four hundred schools. By 1876, 123,035 were attending 2,776 schools, one-third of all teachers were Black.9

The source of this social vision was the most solid base of Reconstruction: the Black workers, farmers, and farmhands. Within the Black population there grew a few men of wealth and the pre-war “free” population provided notable and standout leaders. However, at the end of the day, Black was essentially synonymous with “proletarian.”

Black political power made itself felt all over the South in perhaps the most profound cultural turnaround in U.S. history. Blacks—who just a few years previously had, in the words of the Supreme Court, “no rights” that a white man “was bound to respect”—now not only had rights, but exercised power, literally and metaphorically, over their former masters.

The loss of a monopoly on the positions of power vested in either local government or local appointments to state and federal positions was deeply intolerable to elite opinion, alarming them “even more than their loss of statewide control”.11 In 1900, looking back, a North Carolina Congressman, highlighted Black participation in local government as the “worst feature” of Reconstruction, because Blacks “filled the offices which the best men of the state had filled. He was sheriff, deputy sheriff, justice of the peace…constable, county commissioner”.12 One Charlestonian admirer of the old regime expressed horror in a letter: “Surely our humiliation has been great when a Black Postmaster is established here at Headquarters and our Gentlemen’s Sons to work under his bidding”.13

This power was exercised over land sales, foreclosures, tax rates, and all civil and minor criminal cases all across the Black Belt. In Mississippi, former slaves had taken control of the Board of Supervisors across the Black Belt and one-third of the Black population lived under the rule of a Black sheriff.

In Beaufort, South Carolina, a center of the Plantation aristocracy, the mayor, police force, and magistrates were all Black by 1873. Bolivar County Mississippi and St. John the Baptist Parish in Louisiana were under total Black control, and Little Rock’s City Council had an on and off Black majority.14

Vicksburg and New Orleans gave Black officers command of white policemen while Tallahassee and Little Rock had Black police chiefs. Sixty Blacks across the South served as militia officers as well. Integrated juries also appeared across the South; one white lawyer said it was the “severest blow” he had ever felt to have to address Blacks as “gentlemen of the jury”.15

In South Carolina, Blacks had a majority of the House of Representatives and controlled its key committees. There was a Black majority in the Senate, the Lt. Governor and Secretary of State were Black throughout Reconstruction, and Blacks served as Land Commissioner, on the Supreme Court, and as Treasurer and Speaker of the House.16 Scottish journalist Robert Somers said the South Carolina statehouse was “a Proletarian Parliament the like of which could not be produced under the widest suffrage in any part of the world”.17

In Mississippi, throughout Reconstruction about 20% of the State Senate was Black as were 35% of the State House of Representatives.18 Two Black men served as Speaker of the House, including Isaac Shadd, a militant abolitionist who helped plan John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. Mississippi sent two men to the U.S. Senate, the only Blacks to serve during Reconstruction in that body. Sixteen Blacks from the South served in the U.S. Congress.

In Louisiana, a Black man was the governor for a brief period and the treasurer and the secretary of education for a much longer time. Florida’s superintendent of education was also Black, along with the Secretary of State.

One Northern observer touring South Carolina summed up the general upending of the social order noting there was “an air of mastery among the colored people.” They further noted that whites were “wholly reserved and reticent”.19

The source of Black power in the South was not simply the passive presence of large Black populations, but their active political organization and mobilization. This took place in a variety of overlapping venues such as the grassroots Republican “Union Leagues,” churches, and masonic networks. Newspapers often served as points of political education and influence as well.

“By the end of 1867, it seemed, virtually every black voter in the South had enrolled in the Union League or some equivalent local political organization…informal self-defense organizations sprang up around the leagues, and reports of blacks drilling with weapons, sometimes under men with self-appointed ‘military titles.’ The local leagues’ multifaceted activities, however, far transcended electoral politics. Often growing out of the institutions blacks had created in 1865 and 1866, they promoted the building of schools and churches and collected funds ‘to see to the sick.’ League members drafted petitions protesting the exclusion of blacks from local juries”.20

In St. Landry Parish in Louisiana, hundreds of former slaves gathered once a week to hear the newspaper read aloud to get informed on the various political issues of the day. In Georgia, it was said that every American Methodist Episcopal (a predominantly Black denomination) Minister was active in Republican organizing (Hiram Revels, Black Senator from Mississippi was an AME minister). Holland Thompson, a Black power-broker in Montgomery, Alabama, used a political base in the Baptist church as a route to the City Council, where he shepherded into being that city’s first public school system.21

All across the South, it was common during Reconstruction for politics to disrupt labor flows. One August in Richmond, Virginia, all of the city’s tobacco factories were closed because so many people in the majority-Black workforce were attending a Republican state convention.22

Blanche K. Bruce’s political career, which would lead to the U.S. Senate, started when he became actively engaged in local Republican political meetings in Mississippi. Ditto for John Lynch, one of the most powerful Black politicians of the Reconstruction era. The New Orleans Tribune was at the center of a radical political movement within the Republican Party that nearly took the governor’s office with a program of radical land reform in 1868.

Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina all had “labor conventions”—in 1870 and 1871—where farm workers and artisans came together to press for regulating rents and raising minimum wages, among other issues. Union Leagues were often sites of the organization of strikes and other labor activity.

One white Alabamian noted that, “It is the hardest thing in the world to keep a negro away from the polls…that is the one thing he will do, to vote.” A Mississippi plantation manager related that in his part of the state Blacks were “all crazy on politics again…Every tenth negro a candidate for some office.” A report from the 1868 elections in Alabama noted the huge Black turnout: “In defiance of fatigue, hardship, hunger, and threats of employers.” They stood in the midst of a raging storm, most without shoes, for hours to vote.23

Republican politics in the South were viable only due to these Black power bases. The composition of these politics required the rudiments of a popular program and a clear commitment to Black political power, and thus a degree of civil equality and a clear expansion of social equality as well. Reconstruction politics disrupted the ability of the ruling classes to exercise social control over the broad mass of poor laborers and farmers.

Republican politics was a living and fighting refutation of white supremacy, in addition to allowing the working classes access to positions of formal power. However outwardly accommodating to capital, the Reconstruction governments represented an impediment to capital’s unfettered rule in the South and North.

The political economy of Reconstruction

In addition to economic devastation, Reconstruction governments faced the same challenges as any new revolutionary regime in that they were beset on all sides by enemies. First and foremost, the Old Southern aristocratic elite semi-boycotted politics, organized a campaign of vicious terrorism, and used their economic influence in the most malign of ways. Secondly, the ravages of war and political turmoil caused Wall Street, the city of London, and Paris Bourse to turn sour on democracy in the South. On top of that, increasingly influential factions of the Republican Party came to agree that reconstructing the South was shackling the party with a corrupt, radical agenda hostile to prosperity.

The Republican coalition rested on a very thin base. While they had the ironclad support of Black voters, only in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi did Blacks constitute a majority, and even there, Republicans needed some white support to firmly grasp electoral power.

Most of the white Republican leaders were Northerners, with an overrepresentation of Union army veterans seeking economic opportunity after the war. Most entered politics to aid their own economic interests. These would-be capitalists, lacking the economic resources and social connections, sought a political tie and the patronage that came with it, which could become the basis for fortunes. This created a pull towards moderation on a number of economic and social issues that seeded the ground for Reconstruction’s ultimate defeat.

The Reconstruction governments had one major problem: revenue. Republican leader John Lynch stated as much about the finances of the state of Mississippi: “money was required. There was none in the treasury. There was no cash available even to pay the ordinary expenses of the State government”.24 Reconstruction governments sought to address this issue with taxes, bonds, and capitalist boosterism.

Early Reconstruction governments all operated under the belief that, with the right accommodation, they could revive and expand commerce. In particular, the railroad could open the upcountry to the market and encourage the expansion of various forms of manufacture and mineral extraction. A rising tide would lift all boats, and private capital would provide the investment and employment necessary for the South to prosper. And as such, they showered favors on the railroads in particular:

“Every Southern state extended munificent aid to railroad corporations… either in… direct payments… or in the form of general laws authorizing the states endorsement of railroads bonds… County and local governments subscribed directly to railroad stock… from Mobile, which spent $1 million, to tiny Spartanburg, South Carolina, which appropriated $50,000. Republican legislators also chartered scores of banks and manufacturing companies”.25

In 1871, Mississippi gave away 2 million acres of land to one railway company.26 The year before, Florida chartered the Great Southern Railway Co., using $10 million in public money to get it off the ground.27 State incorporation laws appeared in Southern legal codes for the first time, and governments freely used eminent domain. Their behavior, in the words of one historian, “recapitulated the way Northern law had earlier been transformed to facilitate capitalist development”28.

Many states also passed a range of laws designed to exempt various business enterprises from taxation to further encourage investment. That investment never showed up, to the degree required at least. Diarist George Templeton Strong noted that the South was “the last place” a “Northern or European capitalist would invest a dollar” due to “social discord”.29

As investments went, the South seemed less sure than other American opportunities. There were lucrative investment opportunities in the North and West as the Civil War had sparked a massive industrial boom, creating the careers of robber barons like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.

The South was scarred by war, generally underdeveloped, and politically unstable from the fierce resistance of white supremacy to the rise of Black power. Major financiers were willing to fund cotton production—which was more of a sure thing—and a handful of new industries, but generally felt the South wasn’t much worth the risk. Southern state bonds thus traded at lower values than Northern or Western states, and given the South’s dire economic straits, their supply far outstripped demand for them on the market.

This meant that these investments attracted those “trained in shady finance in Wall St.” whose “business was cheating and manipulation,” and who were “in some cases already discredited in the centers of finance and driven out…of the North and West”.30

The old ruling classes grafted themselves onto the new enterprises, using their history and connections to become the board members and agents of many of the companies. Among other things, this meant the new enterprises were controlled by Democrats, who, while happy to exploit the Reconstruction governments, were doing all they could to undermine them and restore themselves to political power.

The old plantation owners were joined in the new ruling class matrix by the merchants and bankers who arose alongside the expansion of the railroad and of the commercial farming economy outside of the Black Belt.

This new “Bourbon” aristocracy quickly emerged as the main interlocutor with whatever outside investment there was. Economic uncertainty only increased after the Panic of 1873 sent the country into a depression. This made the South an even less attractive investment to outsiders and increased the power and leverage of the Democratic elite, who desired a quick return to total white supremacy and Black subordination.

Republican governments, then, had a choice: they could either turn towards this business class and try to strike an understanding around a vision of the “Gospel of Prosperity,” with some limited Black suffrage, and thus, expanded social rights for the laboring class, or they could base themselves more thoroughly on those same laboring classes, particularly in the Black Belt.

The political power of the elite still rested primarily on their monopoly of landownership and thus effective control over the most profitable industries. Land reform, breaking up the big plantations, and granting the freedman access to tracts of land would fatally undermine that control. It was a shift that would have curtailed the ability of planters to exercise economic coercion over their former slaves in the political realm and would have inserted the freedman more directly into the global economy, thereby marginalizing former planters’ roles as intermediaries with the banks, merchants, and traders. Among other things, this would strengthen Republican rule, crippling the economic and social power most behind their opposition.

Land, was, of course, the key demand of those emerging from slavery. Aaron Bradley, an important Black leader in Savannah, Georgia became known for holding “massive…public meetings” that were described by one scholar as “frequent gatherings of armed rural laborers,” where the issue of land ownership was front and center.31 “Deafening cheers” were heard at a mass meeting in Edgefield County, South Carolina, when a Republican orator laid out a vision where every attendee would acquire a parcel of land.32 In the words of Du Bois, “this land hunger…was continually pushed by all emancipated Negroes and their representatives in every southern state”.33

Despite that, only in South Carolina was land reform taken up in any substantial way. There, under the able leadership of Secretary of State Francis Cardozo, 14,000 Black families, or one-seventh of the Black population, were able to acquire land in just the four years between 1872 and 1876.34

Elsewhere, states eschewed direct financial aid to the freedman in acquiring land and mostly turned to taxation as an indirect method of finance. Cash-strapped planters, unable to make tax payments, would be forced to forfeit their land that would be sold at tax sales where they could be bought by Blacks. Of course, without state aid, most freed people had little access to the necessary capital. In Mississippi, one-fifth of the land in the state was forfeited through tax sales, but ultimately, 95% of that land would end up back with its previous owners.35

Through hard struggle, individuals and small groups of Blacks did make limited footholds into land ownership. In Virginia, Blacks acquired 81-100 thousand acres of land in the 1860s and 70s. In Arkansas in 1875 there were 2,000 Black landowners. By that same year, Blacks in Georgia had obtained 396,658 plots of land worth the equivalent of over $30 million today.36 Ultimately, however, most Blacks were consigned to roles as tenant farmers, farm laborers, or town and city workers. This placed the main base of the Reconstruction governments in a precarious position in which they were susceptible to economic coercion on top of extra-legal terrorism by their political enemies.

The chief advocates of the showering of state aid and the eschewing of land reform was the “moderate” faction of Republicans who tended to gain the upper-hand in the higher and more powerful offices. The fruits of these policies, however, sparked significant struggle over the direction of the Republican cause.

In Louisiana, in the lead-up to the 1868 elections, the Pure Radicals, a grouping centered on the New Orleans Tribune— the first Black daily newspaper—nearly seized the nomination for the governor’s chair on a platform laden with radical content. Their program was for an agriculture composed of large cooperatives; “the planters are no longer needed,” said the Tribune. The paper also editorialized that “we cannot expect complete and perfect freedom for the working men, as long as they remain the tools of capital and are deprived of the legitimate product of the sweat of their brow”.37

As mentioned, several states had “labor conventions.” The South Carolina convention passed resolutions endorsing a nine-hour day and proportional representation for workers on juries, among other things. The Alabama and Georgia conventions established labor unions, which embraced union league organizers across both states, and engaged in a sporadic series of agricultural labor strikes. Ultimately, most of these resolutions would never pass the state legislature.

Nonetheless, they certainly give a sense of the radicalism in the Republican base. This is further indicated by Aaron Logan, a member of the South Carolina House, and a former slave, who in 1871 introduced a bill that would regulate profits and allow workers to vote on what wages their bosses would pay them. The bill was too controversial to even make it to a vote. But, again, it’s deeply indicative of the mood among Black voters since Logan represented the commercial center of Charleston. Logan, it should also be noted, came on the scene politically when he led a mass demonstration of 1,000 Black workers, demanding the right to take time off from work to vote, without a deduction in wages, and he ended up briefly imprisoned at this action after arguing for Black gun ownership. 38

On the one hand, this resulted in even the more moderate factions of the Republican coalition broadly to support Black officeholding. Additionally, the unlimited largess being showered on corporations was curtailed by 1871.

On the other hand, the Reconstruction governments were now something of a halfway house, with their leaders more politically conservative and conciliationist than their base. They pledged to expand state services and to protect many profitable industries from taxes. They were vigilant in protecting the farmer’s axe and sow while letting the usurer establish debt claims on his whole crop. They catered to—but didn’t really represent—the basic, and antagonistic, interests in Southern society. And it was on this basis that the propertied classes would launch their counter-offensive.

Counter-revolution and property

The Civil War had introduced powerful new forces into the land:

After the war, industry in the North found itself with a vast organization for production, new supplies of raw material, a growing transportation system on land and water, and a new technical knowledge of processes. All this…tremendously stimulated the production of good and available services…an almost unprecedented scramble for this new power, new wealth, and new income ensued…It threatened the orderly processes of production as well as government and morals…governments…paid…the cost of the railroads and handed them over to…corporations for their own profit. An empire of rich land…had been…given to investors and land speculators. All of the…coal, oil, copper, gold and iron had been given away…made the monopolized basis of private fortunes with perpetual power to tax labor for the right to live and work.39

One major result was the creation of vast political machines that ran into the thousands of employees through patronage posts that had grown in size as the range of government responsibilities and regulations grew along with the economy. It created a large grey area between corruption and extortion. The buying of services, contracts, and so on was routine, as was the exploitation of government offices to compel the wealthy to come forth with bribes.

This started to create something of a backlash among the more well-to-do in the Republican coalition. Many of the significantly larger new “middle classes” operating in the “professions” began to feel that the government was ignoring the new “financial sciences” that prescribed free trade, the gold standard, and limited government. They argued that the country was being poorly run because of the political baronies created through patronage, which caused politicians to cater to the whims of the propertyless. These “liberals,” as they became known in Republican circles, increasingly favored legislation that would limit the franchise to those of “property and education” and that would limit the role of government in the affairs of businesses or the rights of workers.

This, of course, was in line with the influence of the rising manufacturing capitalists in the Republican Party, and became a point of convergence between “moderate” Republicans and Democrats. That the Democratic Party was part of this convergence was ironic as it postured as the party of white workers, although in reality they were just as controlled by the wealthy interests, particularly on Wall Street, as their opponents.

Reconstruction in general, and in South Carolina in particular, became central to the propaganda of all three elements. The base of Reconstruction was clearly the Black poor and laboring masses of the South, who voted overwhelmingly for Grant and whose governments were caricatured as hopelessly corrupt. On top of all that, they were willing to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for public goods for everyone else.

It made the Reconstruction governments the perfect scapegoats for those looking to restrict the ballot of the popular classes in the service of the rights of property. Taxes, corruption, and racism were intertwined in a powerful campaign by the wealthy—in the clothing of the Democratic Party—to dislodge Republican rule.

Increases in taxation were as practical as they were ideological. The Reconstruction states had only debts and no cash. In order to attract more investment, early Republican governments didn’t dare repudiate the debt racked up by the rebels. The failure to ignite an economic boom and the lackluster demand for Southern bonds left increasing taxes as the only realistic means to increase revenue to cover an expanded role for public services.

The antebellum tax system had been very easy on the planters. Republicans relied on general property taxes that were increased more or less across the board. In particular, the wealthiest found their wealth—in land, stocks, and bonds—taxed, often for the first time. Their wealth was certainly taxed for the first time at their real value, since planters lost the power to assess their own property.

The planters, the bankers, and the merchants, or the “men of wealth, virtue and intelligence” in their own minds, organized a vicious propaganda war against higher taxes. They went so far as to organize conventions in the mid-1870s to plead their weak case. South Carolina’s convention, which included 11 Confederate Generals, put the blame for the tax “burden” squarely on the fact that “nine-tenths of the members of the legislature own no property”.40

Their critique wasn’t just over tax rates, but what they were being spent on. They depicted the Reconstruction governments as corrupt and spendthrift. These were governments run foolishly by inferior races, which were, in their world, dangerous because they legislated for the common man.

They also linked Reconstruction to communism. In the wake of the war, working-class organization intensified. Only three national unions existed at the end of the war, while five years later there were 21. Strikes became a regular feature of life.41 Their regularity was such that the influential magazine Scribner’s Monthly lamented that labor had come under the sway of the “senseless cry against the despotism of capital”.42 In New Orleans, the white elite feared Louisiana’s Constitutional Convention in 1867 was likely to be dominated by a policy of “pure agrarianism,” that is, attacks on property.43

The unease of the leading classes with the radical agitation among the newly organized laborers and the radical wing of the Reconstruction coalitions was only heightened by the Paris Commune in 1871. For a brief moment, the working people of Paris grasped the future and established their own rule, displacing the propertied classes. It was an act that scandalized ruling classes around the world and, in the U.S., raised fears of the downtrodden seizing power.

The Great Chicago Fire was held out to be a plot by workers to burn down cities. The Philadelphia Inquirer warned its readers to fear the communist First International, which was planning a war on America’s landed aristocracy. Horace White, editor of the Chicago Tribune, who’d traveled with Lincoln during his infamous debates with Douglas, denounced labor organizations as waging a “communistic war upon vested rights and property.” The Nation explicitly linked the northern labor radicals with the Southern freedman representing a dangerous new “proletariat”.44

August Belmont, Chairman of the Democratic National Convention, and agent for the Rothschild banking empire, remarked in a letter that Republicans were making political hay out of Democratic appeals to workers, accusing them of harboring “revolutionary intentions”.45

The liberal Republicans opened up a particular front against the Reconstruction governments, with a massively disorienting effect on Republican politics nationwide. Among the ranks of the liberals were many who had been made famous by their anti-slavery zeal, including Horace Greeley and his southern correspondent, former radical Republican James Pike. The duo turned the New York Tribune from a center of radicalism into a sewer of elitist racism. They derided Blacks as lazy, ignorant, and corrupt, describing South Carolina as being victimized by “disaffected workers, who believed in class conflict”.46 Reporting on the South Carolina taxpayer convention, Greeley told his audience that the planters were menaced by taxes “by the ignorant class, which only yesterday hoed the fields and served in the kitchen”.47

Greeley also served as a cipher for Confederate Secretary of State Robert Toombs, who observed that “reading and writing did not fit a man for voting. The Paris mob were intelligent, but they were the most dangerous class in the world.” He stated further that the real possibility of poor whites and Blacks uniting was his real fear in that they would “attack the interests of the landed proprietors”.48

The liberal Republicans were unable to capture the zeitgeist in the 1872 election. Former Union General and incumbent President Ulysses S. Grant and his campaign managers positioned their campaign as the true campaign of the working man. Nominating Henry Wilson, “The Shoemaker of Natick,” former indentured servant, and “friend of labor and the Negro,” as Vice-President. They famously waved the “bloody shirt,” reminding Northern workers and farmers what they had fought for and linking their opponents to a return of the Slave Power.

However, their challenge scrambled Republican politics and Grant quickly sought to conciliate his opponents by backing away from enforcing the rights of the freedman with force and doling out patronage and pardons to all manner of rebels, traitors, and terrorists. In 1874, Democrats swept the midterm elections, further entrenching the consolidation of the political power of capital. So emboldened, the 1875 elections devolved into an orgy of violence and fraud. Black Republican leader John Lynch noted that “Nearly all Democratic clubs in the State were converted into armed military companies”.49

In Yazoo County, Mississippi, a Republican meeting was broken up by armed whites who killed a state legislator. In Clinton, Mississippi, 30 Black people were murdered when bands of white vigilantes roamed the countryside.50 As one historian details:

“What we have to deal with here is not a local or episodic movement but a South-wide revolution against duly constitute state governments…the old planters as well as the rising class of bankers, merchants, and lawyers…decided to use any and every means…they drew up coordinated plans and designated targets and objectives. Funds for guns and cannons were solicited from leading planters”.51

That same historian estimates that “thousands” were killed in this brutal campaign.52

John Lynch, the Black Republican leader from Mississippi, related that, when he asked President Grant in the winter of 1875 why he had not sent more assistance to loyal Republicans besieged by terrorists in Mississippi, Grant replied that to have done so would have guaranteed a Republican loss in Ohio. This is as clear a sign as any of the shifting sands of Republican politics.

Black Power in the South had become an obstacle to the elites in both parties. It was the only area of the country where the “free ballot” was bound to lead workers holding some of the levers of power. Black suffrage meant a bloc in Congress in favor of placing social obligations on capital, a curtailment of white supremacy, and bitter opposition to property qualifications in voting. The very fact that opposition to Reconstruction was cast in “class” terms, against the political program of the freedman as much as the freedman themselves, speaks to these fears.

A solid (or even not so solid) Republican South was an ally to political forces aggrieved by the “despotism of capital” around the country. A solid white supremacist South was (and is) a bastion for the most reactionary policies and allies of policies of untrammeled profit making, which is, as we have shown, the direction in which the ruling classes were traveling. Thus, Reconstruction had to die.

The final charge

It was not until after…that white labor in the South began to realize that they had lost a great opportunity, that when they united to disenfranchise the Black laborer they had cut the voting power of the laboring class in two. White labor in the populist movement…tried to realign economic warfare in the South and bring workers of all colors into united opposition to the employer. But they found that the power which they had put in the hands of the employers in 1876 so dominated political life that free and honest expression of public will at the ballot-box was impossible in the South, even for white men. They realized it was not simply the Negro who had been disenfranchised…it was the white laborer as well. The South had since become one of the greatest centers for labor exploitation in the world.53 -W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America

While Reconstruction was destroyed in the service of the ruling classes, its defeat could not have taken place without the acquiescence and assistance of the popular classes among the white population as well. In the South, in particular, the role of the “upcountry small farmer” was essential.

During the war, these yeomen farmers had coined the phrase “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.” At first, there was some fear, and some electoral evidence, that poor whites and the newly freed slaves might make an alliance of sorts. Instead, the rift between them widened. The hierarchy constructed of white supremacy relied on inculcating racial superiority in many ways, one of them being the idea of “independence” that made white small farmers “superior” to slaves. They were poor, but at least they were masters of their own patch of land.

The coming of the railroad changed all of this drastically. The railroad opened up the upcountry to the world economy. While it initially seemed like an opportunity, it was, in fact, a curse. Many small farmers dove into cotton production, the one thing financiers were eager to fund. They quickly found, however, that the cost of transporting and marketing their goods, in addition to the costs of inputs from merchants, made success very difficult, and made it almost certain they would have to resort to credit. The rates of usury were, however, allowed to go high enough that a majority of these small farmers became trapped in webs of debt.

The only way to keep going was to offer one’s crop as security for loans, ahead of time—the so-called “crop-lien.” From masters of their own realm, these farmers had now become slaves to debt, losing all real control of their destiny and farming to avoid eviction rather than to make any money.

This reality increased resentment at Reconstruction governments, and, given their dire financial situation, created another base of support for those trying to make an issue out of higher taxes. This ultimately helped solidify white opposition to Republican rule behind the planters and their Democratic Party.

As the 1870s turned into the 1880s, this consensus started to crack. The depression unleashed in the Panic of 1873 led to a breakdown of the two-party system as the two parties consolidated their views on how to move the country forward at the expense of workers and farmers. A variety of movements started to emerge, particularly strong in the West, opposing various aspects of the new consensus.

In the 1880s, the movement started to strengthen itself through a series of “Farmers Alliances” that spread like wildfire across the country. The alliances not only advocated and agitated for things like railroad regulation and more equitable farming arrangements, but also organized their own cooperatives and attempts to break free of the unjust state of affairs to which they were subject. The alliances were also major sites of political education where newspapers and meetings helped define and disseminate the economic realities of capitalism and exactly why these farmers were facing so much exploitation.

A Black alliance, the Colored Farmers Alliance, also grew rapidly, ultimately embracing millions of Black farmers. Black farmers, likewise, were getting the short-end of the stick in terms of the results of Reconstruction-era land policies. Despite being shut out of land ownership, Black farmers were highly resistant to returning to the plantations as farm laborers. This led to a rise in tenancy where Black farmers rented the land and took on the production of the crops for a share of the crop that they could sell, or what is called “sharecropping.”

Similar to white farmers in the upcountry, however, this system turned viciously against them. The costs of credit to carry out various farming activities or to cover the cost of goods in the offseason meant that they too, quickly and easily became ensnared by debt. This started to create intriguing political opportunities in the South. Disaffected white farmers started to become interested in the third-party movements representing popular discontent, particularly the Greenback-Labor Party.

The Greenbackers embraced much of the agrarian reform ideas favored by farmers, and added in support for an income tax, the free ballot, and the eight-hour day for workers. In Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama, the Greenback movement found some shallow roots with white farmers who, recognizing the political situation, understood their only possible ally could be Blacks.

Black politics, while in retreat, had not disappeared. The Colored Farmers Alliance was rooted in the same networks of religion, fraternal organization, and grassroots Republican political mobilization that had formed during Reconstruction. It was thus more politically inclined than the Southern Farmers Alliance of whites, which remained tied to the Democratic Party and its white supremacist policies.

Nonetheless, a growing number of Blacks seeking political opportunity sought to embrace the Greenback movement through a process known as “fusion.” This meant Republicans running joint candidates or slates with third parties in order to maximize their voting power and take down the Democrats. This led to somewhat of a “second act” of Reconstruction. The Colored Farmers Alliance played a key role in the early 1890s in pushing the alliances to launch the Populist Party, turning the incipient potential of the Greenback Party into a serious political insurgency, but one which couldn’t be truly national without a Southern component. Populism united the agrarian unrest of the West and South against the “money power” of the Wall Street banks.

Populists championed public ownership of the largest corporations of the time—the railroads—as well as the communications apparatus of the country. In addition, they advocated an agricultural plan known as the “sub-treasury system” to replace the big banks in providing credit to the farmers as well as empowering cooperatives rather than private corporations to store and market goods. All of these were ingredients to break small farmers out of a cycle of debt.

They also advocated for a shorter working day and a graduated income tax and sought to link together the demands of urban workers and those living in rural areas, saying in their preamble: “Wealth belongs to him who creates it, and every dollar taken from industry without an equivalent is robbery. ”If any will not work, neither shall he eat.” The interests of rural and civil labor are the same; their enemies are identical”.54 This turned the People’s Party into a real challenge to the ruling class on a national scale, one particularly potent in Georgia, North Carolina, and Alabama on the Southern front:

“The People’s (Populist) Party presidential candidate James B. Weaver received over one million votes in 1892 (approximately nine percent of the vote), winning 22 electoral votes (albeit, mostly in the West); in North Carolina, a Populist-Republican alliance took over the state legislature in 1894; Populists and their allies sat in Congress, governor’s offices, and held dozens of local offices over the next two years; and scores of Black and white People’s Party chapters had been established across the region”.55

This success would evoke a wave of terrorist violence against Populists and the Black community writ large that rivaled Reconstruction times and that, in terms of outright election fraud, exceeded it, which can be viewed clearly through the example of North Carolina, and Wilmington, in particular.

The 1892 election, the first time out for the Populists, opened up a new lane of cooperation. White Populists openly appealed for Black votes. “In addition to voting the ticket, blacks sometimes…took roles in county organizations and in mobilizing black voters. Some counties [even] placed blacks on ballots, and blacks were present at Populist rallies and in local Populist nominating conventions”56. In Raleigh, Blacks campaigned on horseback and on mule with the Presidential candidate James Weaver as well.57 The results reflected the campaign: “African Americans voted “en masse” for the People’s Party in 1892 in the first and second districts of the eastern part of the state, where the majority of black counties were. Black voters in both Hyde and Wilson counties, for instance, gave near unanimous support to the third party ticket”.58

Over the next two years Populists, Black and white, worked with Republicans, Black and white, to hammer out a fusion agreement for the 1894 state elections. This was despite fairly significant differences, such as the rise of Black populism, for instance, which heralded a rise in class differences within the Black community. Nonetheless, they found common ground and swept the elections:

“Among other changes, the elected Republican-Populist majority revised and simplified election laws, making it easier for African Americans to vote; they restored the popular election of state and county officials, dismantling the appointive system used by Democrats to keep black candidates out of office; and the fusion coalition also reversed discriminatory “stock laws” (that required fencing off land) that made it harder for small farmers to compete against large landowners. The reform of election and county government laws, in particular, undermined planter authority and limited their control of the predominantly black eastern counties”.59

The Fusion coalition also championed issues like “public funding for education, legislation banning the convict-lease system, the criminalization of lynching”.60 The Fusion government also restricted interest rates to address the massive debts being incurred by farmers and sharecroppers. Most notably, the Fusion governments stood up to the powerful railroad interests and their Northern backers like JP Morgan.

The port city of Wilmington was an important Republican stronghold and had to be neutralized for Democrats to break through the Fusion hold on the state. In 1897, Democrats started a vicious campaign of white supremacy, forming clubs and militias that would become known as “Red Shirts,” along with a media offensive.

As the Charlotte Observer would later state, it was the “bank men, the mill men, and businessmen in general,” who were behind this campaign.61 One major theme of the campaign was a particular focus on Black men supposedly “preying” on white women and girls. Physical violence and armed intimidation were used to discourage Blacks or Republicans and Populists of any color from voting.

As the election drew closer, Democrats made tens of thousands of copies of an editorial by Alex Manley, the Black editor of the Daily Record newspaper. Manley, an important civic leader in Wilmington had written the editorial in response to calls for increased lynchings against Blacks to stop interracial relationships. Manley argued that white women who sought out relations with Black men often used rape allegations to cover their tracks or end a dalliance.

While undoubtedly true, it raised the ire of white supremacists to the highest of pitches. On election day, most Blacks and Republicans chose not to vote as Red Shirt mobs were roaming the streets and had established checkpoints all over the city. Unsurprisingly, the Democrats won.

Unwilling to wait until their term of office began, some of the newly elected white officials and businesspeople decided to mount a coup and force out Black lawmakers right then and there. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of whites, marauded through the streets, attacking Black businesses and property and killing more than 300 Black people in the process. They forced the Republican mayor, along with all city commissioners, to resign at gunpoint. They banished them from the city, leading them in front of a mob that assaulted them before putting them on a train out of town. At least 2,000 Black residents fled, leaving most of what they owned behind.

The Wilmington massacre destroyed the Fusion coalition. All over the state, fraud and violence had been used against the Fusionists to no avail, but, as evidenced by the example of Wilmington, there was little chance of rebuilding ties of solidarity.

The same can be said for the populist period more generally. While Populists certainly have a mixed record, at best, when it came to racism in the general sense, it’s undeniable that the Populist upsurge opened up new political space for Blacks that had been shut-off by the two major parties. Further, it did so in a manner that was ideological much more commensurate with the unrealized desires of Republican rule.

So, in North Carolina and all across the South, Populists were crushed in an orgy of violence and fraud. Racism was a powerful motivating factor in Southern politics across this entire period. This racism, however, did not stop large numbers of whites from entering into a political alliance with Blacks. The anti-Populist violence has to be seen in this context as a counterweight against the pull of self-interest in the economic field.

Toward a third Reconstruction

Reconstruction looms large in our current landscape because so much of its promise remains unrealized. The Second Reconstruction, better known as “the sixties,” took the country some of the way there, particularly concerning civil equality. It reaffirmed an agenda of placing social claims on capital. It also, however, revealed the limits of the capitalist system, showing how easily the most basic reforms can be rolled back. This was a lesson also taught by the first Reconstruction.

The history of Reconstruction also helps us to understand the centrality of Black Liberation to social revolution. The dispossession of Blacks from social and civic life was not just ideologically but politically foundational to capitalism in the U.S. The Solid South, dependent on racism, has played and continues to play a crucial role as a conservative influence bloc in favor of capital.

Reconstruction also gives us insight into the related issue of why Black political mobilization, even in fairly mundane forms, is met with such hostility. The very nature of Black oppression has created what is essentially a proletarian nation which denounces racism not in the abstract, but in relationship to its actual effects. Unsurprisingly, then, Black Liberation politics has always brought forward a broad social vision to correct policies, not attitudes, which is precisely the danger since these policies are not incidental, but intrinsic, to capitalism.

In sum, Reconstruction points us towards an understanding that “freedom” and “liberation” are bound up with addressing the limitations that profit over people puts on any definition of those concepts. It helps us understand the central role of “white solidarity” in promoting capitalist class power. Neither racism nor capitalism can be overcome without a revolutionary struggle that presents a socialist framework.

1 Du Bois, W.E.B. (1935/1999). Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 (New York: Simon & Schuster), 325.
2 Marx, Karl. (1865). “Address of the International Working Men’s Association to Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America,”, January 28. Available here.
3 Bennett, Jr Lerone. (1969). Black Power U.S.A.: The human side of Reconstruction 1867-1877 (New York: Pelican), 148.
4 Foner, Eric. (1988/2011). Reconstruction: America’s unfinished revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Perennial), 364-365.
5 Ibid., 363, 372.
6 Ibid., 372-375.
7 Foner, Reconstruction, 366.
? Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 651.
8 Bennett, Black Power U.S.A., 179.
9 Magnunsson, Martin. (2007). “No rights which the white man is bound to respect”: The Dred Scott decision. American Constitution Society Blogs, March 19. Available here.
10 Foner, Reconstruction, 355.
11 Rabinowitz, Howard N. (Ed.) (1982). Southern Black leaders of the Reconstruction era (Urbana: University of Illinois Press), 106-107.
12 Bennett, Black Power U.S.A., 150.
13 Foner, Reconstruction, 356-357.
14 Ibid., 362-363.
15 Facing History and Ourselves. (2022). “The Reconstruction era and the fragility of democracy.” Available here.
16 Bennett, Black Power U.S.A., 183-184.
17 Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 441.
18 Bennett, Black Power U.S.A., 160.
19 Foner, Reconstruction, 283-285.
20 Ibid., 282-283.
21 Ibid., 282.
22 Ibid., 291.
23 Lynch, John R. (1919). The facts of Reconstruction (New York: The Neale Publishing Company), ch. 4. Available here.
24 Foner, Reconstruction, 380.
25 Ibid., 382.
26 Rabinowitz, Southern Black leaders of the Reconstruction Era, 73.
27 Foner, Reconstruction, 381.
28 Ibid., 391.
29 Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 407-408.
30 Rabinowitz, Southern Black leaders of the Reconstruction era, 291-294.
31 Foner, Reconstruction, 374.
32 Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 601.
33 Foner, Reconstruction, 375.
34 Ibid., 376.
35 Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 603.
36 Bennett, Black Power U.S.A., 247.
37 Foner, Reconstruction, 377-378.
38 Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 581.
39 Foner, Reconstruction, 415-416.
40 Ibid., 478.
41 Cox Richardson, Heather. (2001). The death of Reconstruction: Race, labor, and politics in the post-Civil War North, 1865-1901 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), 85.
42 Foner, Reconstruction, 328.
43 Cox Richardson, The death of Reconstruction, 86-88; Foner, Reconstruction, 518-519.
44 Cox Richardson, The death of Reconstruction, 88.
45 Ibid., 94.
46 Ibid., 96.
47 Ibid., 97.
48 Lynch, The facts of Reconstruction, ch. 8. Available here.
49 Foner, Reconstruction, 558-560.
50 Bennett, Black Power U.S.A., 330-331.
51 Ibid.
52 Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 353.
53 Populist Party Platform. (1892). Available here.
54 Ali, Omar. (2005). “Independent Black voices from the late 19th century: Black Populists and the struggle against the southern Democracy,” Souls 7, no. 2: 4-18.
55 Ali, Omar. (2010). In the lion’s mouth: Black Populism in the new South, 1886-1900 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi), 136.
56 Ibid.
57 Ibid.
58 Ibid., 140.
59 Ibid., 141.
60 The Charlotte Observer. (1898). “Editorial,” November 17.

Not a Labor of Love

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/03/2022 - 1:00am in

t was argued that domestic work doesn’t produce any social wealth, is a backward activity, and that it isn’t really part of the capitalist organization of work and, therefore, women who are mostly involved with this kind of work do not have the power to change society....

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