Immanuel Wallerstein (1930-2019) on the trajectory of our world
A Commentary on Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States”
At this point in time, my only criticism of Zinn’s book is that it did not focus sufficiently on land rights in the United States, as presented in such a book as: Charles Beard and Mary Beard, History of the United States, 1921; or such a book as: Roy M. Robbins, Our Landed Heritage: The Public Domain, 1776-1936, 1942. [A full copy is available for borrowing at Internet Archive.]
My point is that access to subsistence land is necessary for sheer animal existence, and such access in the British colonies was never free. Land was granted to individuals and corporations by the Kings of England, and these individuals and corporations had to create a profit for themselves and the King.
Below is an illustration of this from the Beards’ History:
Feudal Elements in the Colonies – Quit Rents, Manors, and Plantations. – At the other end of the scale were the feudal elements of land tenure found in the proprietary colonies, in the seaboard regions of the South, and to some extent in New York. The proprietor was in fact a powerful feudal lord, owning land granted to him by royal charter. He could retain any part of it for his personal use or dispose of it all in large or small lots. While he generally kept for himself an estate of baronial proportions, it was impossible for him to manage directly any considerable part of the land in his dominion. Consequently he either sold it in parcels for lump sums or granted it to individuals on condition that they make to him an annual payment in money, known as “quit rent.” In Maryland, the proprietor sometimes collected as high as £9000 (equal to about $500,000 to-day) in a single year from this source. In Pennsylvania, the quit rents brought a handsome annual tribute into the exchequer of the Penn family. In the royal provinces, the king of England claimed all revenues collected in this form from the land, a sum amounting to £19,000 at the time of the Revolution. The quit rent, – “really a feudal payment from freeholders,” – was thus a material source of income for the crown as well as for the proprietors. Wherever it was laid, however, it proved to be a burden, a source of constant irritation; and it became a formidable item in the long list of grievances which led to the American Revolution.
Something still more like the feudal system of the Old World appeared in the numerous manors or the huge landed estates granted by the crown, the companies, or the proprietors. In the colony of Maryland alone there were sixty manors of three thousand acres each, owned by wealthy men and tilled by tenants holding small plots under certain restrictions of tenure. In New York also there were many manors of wide extent, most of which originated in the days of the Dutch West India Company, when extensive concessions were made to patroons to induce them to bring over settlers. The Van Rensselaer, the Van Cortlandt, and the Livingston manors were so large and populous that each was entitled to send a representative to the provincial legislature. The tenants on the New York manors were in somewhat the same position as serfs on old European estates. They were bound to pay the owner a rent in money and kind; they ground their grain at his mill; and they were subject to his judicial power because he held court and meted out justice, in some instances extending to capital punishment.
The manors of New York or Maryland were, however, of slight consequence as compared with the vast plantations of the Southern seaboard – huge estates, far wider in expanse than many a European barony and tilled by slaves more servile than any feudal tenants. It must not be forgotten that this system of land tenure became the dominant feature of a large section and gave a decided bent to the economic and political life of America. (Chapter 2)
After the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, a question arose as to the status of lands westward of the colonies. These eventually became known as the public domain, and by the Ordinance of May 20, 1785, the following measures went into effect:
In line with the earlier abolition of feudal incidents, the ordinance adopted allodial tenure, that is, land was to pass in fee simple from the government to the first purchaser. After clearing the Indian title and surveying the land the government was to sell it at auction to the highest bidder. Townships were to be surveyed six miles square and alternate ones subdivided into lots one mile square, each lot consisting of 640 acres to be known as a section. No land was to be sold until the first seven ranges of townships were marked off. A minimum price was fixed at $1 per acre to be paid in specie, loan-office certificates, or certificates of the liquidated debt, including interest. The purchaser was to pay surveying expenses of $36 per township. Congress reserved sections 8, 11, 26, and 29 in each township, and one-third of all precious metals later discovered therein. In addition the sixteenth section of each township was set aside for the purpose of providing common schools.
[I add the following table:
[Robbins, Chapter I]
Township = 36 sections 6 5 4 3 2 1 7 8 9 10 11 12 18 17 16 15 14 13 19 20 21 22 23 24 30 29 28 27 26 25 31 32 33 34 35 36
Land was, thus, not available for free, and those who illegally settled on any land were squatters, who, when the surveys reached their land holdings had to pay or be booted out. The other major problem was that land was sold only in huge chunks; so that only wealthy speculators could afford to buy it, which they then resold to settlers for a profit.
As to the Homestead Act of 1862 which granted 160 acres for free; although Zinn points out that only inferior land was made available, he does not mention the exorbitant cost to the pioneer to undertake such a possession. See: Clarence H. Danhof, “FARM-MAKING COSTS AND THE “SAFETY VALVE”: 1850-60,” The Journal of Political Economy, Volume XLIX, Number 3, June 1941: 317-359.
In conclusion, I think that Zinn was right on target in the following excerpt in realizing that freedom from slavery without a free access to subsistence land is just another form of slavery — wage slavery.
Many Negroes understood that their status after the war, whatever their situation legally, would depend on whether they owned the land they worked on or would be forced to be semi-slaves for others. In 1863, a North Carolina Negro wrote that “if the strict law of right and justice is to be observed, the country around me is the entailed inheritance of the Americans of African descent, purchased by the invaluable labor of our ancestors, through a life of tears and groans, under the lash and yoke of tyranny.”
Abandoned plantations, however, were leased to former planters, and to white men of the North. As one colored newspaper said: “The slaves were made serfs and chained to the soil. . . . Such was the boasted freedom acquired by the colored man at the hands of the Yankee.”
Under congressional policy approved by Lincoln, the property confiscated during the war under the Confiscation Act of July 1862 would revert to the heirs of the Confederate owners. Dr. John Rock, a black physician in Boston, spoke at a meeting: “Why talk about compensating masters? Compensate them for what? What do you owe them? What does the slave owe them? What does society owe them? Compensate the master? . . . It is the slave who ought to be compensated. The property of the South is by right the property of the slave. . . .”
Some land was expropriated on grounds the taxes were delinquent, and sold at auction. But only a few blacks could afford to buy this. In the South Carolina Sea Islands, out of 16,000 acres up for sale in March of 1863, freedmen who pooled their money were able to buy 2,000 acres, the rest being bought by northern investors and speculators. A freedman on the Islands dictated a letter to a former teacher now in Philadelphia:My Dear Young Missus: Do, my missus, tell Linkum dat we wants land – dis bery land dat is rich wid de sweat ob de face and de blood ob we back. . . . We could a bin buy all we want, but dey make de lots too big, and cut we out.
De word cum from Mass Linkum’s self, dat we take out claims and hold on ter um, an’ plant um, and he will see dat we get um, every man ten or twenty acre. We too glad. We stake out an’ list, but fore de time for plant, dese commissionaries sells to white folks all de best land. Where Linkum?
In early 1865, General William T. Sherman held a conference in Savannah, Georgia, with twenty Negro ministers and church officials, mostly former slaves, at which one of them expressed their need: “The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and till it by our labor. . . .” Four days later Sherman issued “Special Field Order No. 15,” designating the entire southern coastline 30 miles inland for exclusive Negro settlement. Freedmen could settle there, taking no more than 40 acres per family. By June 1865, forty thousand freedmen had moved onto new farms in this area. But President Andrew Johnson, in August of 1865, restored this land to the Confederate owners, and the freedmen were forced off, some at bayonet point.
Ex-slave Thomas Hall told the Federal Writers’ Project:Lincoln got the praise for freeing us, but did he do it? He gave us freedom without giving us any chance to live to ourselves and we still had to depend on the southern white man for work, food, and clothing, and he held us out of necessity and want in a state of servitude but little better than slavery.
Disambiguation of “socialism”
Here I would like to make distinction between the use of “socialism” as applied to States (i.e., the governments of countries) and as applied to, what today are called, “intentional communities.” I believe that Marx and Engels referred to speculation about such communities as “utopian socialism.” That is an unfortunate phrase because it suggests that these communities saw themselves as living in the best of all possible communities — which I don’t think they did. They simply thought this was a better way to live for them.
Anyway, there are three early books about these communities. They are:
John Humphrey Noyes, History of American Socialisms, 1870;
Charles Nordhoff, The Communistic Societies of the United States, 1875;
William Alfred Hinds, American Communities, 1878, revised 1902
The earliest of these books is by Noyes, and it is about types of communities as “socialisms.” And he distinguishes two types of socialistic communities: communistic and joint-stock communities. (Joint-stock communities are what Richard Wolff refers to as “worker-owned enterprises.”)
It is interesting to note which communities succeeded and which failed. To find out, read at least one of the books!
What Marx and Engels call “scientific socialism” has nothing to do with communal societies, but is rather a phrase equivalent to “social science,” which includes sociology, economics, and political study. But, in short, it is a critique of capitalism.
“Socialism” nowadays is used to refer to State interference with “laissez-faire capitalism.” Because the term “capitalism” is used in the sense that an individual should be free to trade with anyone for anything, “socialism” is seen as a constraint on this freedom. And this constraint can take the form of a government either taking over production, restraining and regulating trade and ownership, or providing welfare. From this perspective, a State is socialistic if it takes over the industries (nationalizes them), if it regulates production and distribution, and if it provides for people such things as old age pensions, free health care, free food, or free anything.
The most pernicious form of socialism to capitalism is a State which gives a free access to subsistence land. The reason this is so pernicious is that such a measure deprives capitalists (i.e. people with money to invest) from obtaining cheap laborers or even laborers at all.
Free Access to Subsistence Land = Socialism
Why is this important? Because human beings are animals, and all animals must eat to live. And all animals get their food from their environment, as do all foraging human beings and those who have learned to cultivate their source of food. But with the establishment of States and industrial production, humans have been driven into cities, which Desmond Morris, in the following video views as Human Zoos.
Whether such laws allowing or denying free access to subsistence land are enacted by a single individual (a monarch, a dictator, a president, a prime minister) or a group (a parliament, a congress, a council) is irrelevant.
How power is exercised (i.e., who grants or denies this right) is a different question from whether you are granted this right or not. And one answer to this question of power is given by the word “democracy.” But I distinguish Mass Democracy in which thousands and millions vote for some official (as is practically a universal political practice), from Micro Democracy where the units of government are about 150 voters. A federated Micro Democracy is the ideal of theoretical Anarchism (as expounded, for example, in Proudhon’s The principle of federation, 1863.)
Why I have no strategy for bringing about significant changes
In my last blog I said that I have no strategy for realizing my ideals. Here I want to explain why I said this. A government can be changed either peacefully or violently. First to do either, there must exist some group of people who want a change. Next that group of people must get organized. Well, historically this happened in the United States in 1861 in the South which formed the Confederate States which seceded from the Union. The “decider” — President Abraham Lincoln — did not allow this to happen. And as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, he decided to “quell this rebellion.” Formally, this was not a civil war, but a domestic insurrection. Perhaps some other person as President would have allowed the secession to take place. As example, the Soviet Union dissolved peacefully under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.
So, one way to get out of a bad government is by secession. But it depends on who is the “decider” whether this will be allowed. Most countries (especially under monarchs or dictators) are imperialistic; trying to gain and to control more and more territory, as is documented by the endless wars in recorded history. And colonies are let go only after much fighting. We have the example of the British colonies in America rebelling and seceding from England; or India getting independence from England.
Any domestic rebellion in the United States would be immediately crushed by the overwhelming force of the police and the military. Good examples of this are the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and the Pullman Strike of 1894. In both cases federal troops were used to pacify the situation. The former by orders of President Hayes; the latter by orders of President Cleveland.
My point is that it is impossible to do anything in the United States against the will of the President. Why? Because he is in charge of soldiers who will carry out his orders. Remember, people will do almost anything for money, that is, do their “job.” And neither policemen nor soldiers are exceptions.
Ok, so what is the peaceful strategy for changing the government or its policies? All the “deciders” in government are elected officials. The rest of the civil servants do the will of these elected “deciders”, except for the Supreme Court whose members are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and who can be removed only by impeachment.
Changing the government under the US Constitution would require an Amendment to the Constitution, something which is extremely difficult to do. So, the only practical strategy is to elect trustworthy and benevolent politicians. Good luck!
Given that the United States has Mass or Macro Democracy, by which I mean that thousands or millions of people vote to elect a candidate. And in order to persuade the voters to vote for a candidate, it requires lots of advertisement. And advertisement costs lots of money. And the higher the office, the more money required. [e.g., in the 2020 presidential race, Donald Trump and Joe Biden together spent $1.3 billion.] So only either the wealthy, or the friends of the wealthy get elected. Therefore, the government of the United States is controlled by the wealthy. There are exceptions, but so what? It only gives the illusion of the possibility of change for the better.
I think it was the Presidency of Barack Obama which created the greatest disillusionment in American people for their government. Here was a black pied piper promising change, but who led us lemmings over the cliff.
Chris Hedges “The Legacy Of Barack Obama Has Been The Near Collapse Of The Left!”
Given the above considerations, leaves me with no acceptable strategies for any political changes.