Friday, September 16, 2011

Zinn, Chapter 10

This chapter is titled "The Other Civil War," and it looks from the first paragraphs to be a war between the elite, land-owning class and the renters.
  • "If you permit unprincipled and ambitious men to monopolize the soil, they will become masters of the country in the certain order of cause and effect," said Ainge Devyr, an Irishman turned United Statesian who had seen the same problem between owners and renters happen on both sides of the Atlantic.
  •  "One of the most hated elements of the lease gave the landlord the right to the timber on all the farms," a truth in New York in the 1800s. Reminds me a bit of the land rights versus mineral rights in Texas (with regards to fracking, lately). 
  • As usual, Zinn sees the pattern and summarizes it well: When the disparity between rich and poor is huge, *they* just grow the middle class. The rich stay rich and the poor stay poor, but there's a buffer. Or: "The farmers had fought, been crushed by the law, their struggle diverted into voting, and the system stabilized by enlarging the class of small landowners, leaving the basic structure of rich and poor intact. It was a common sequence in American history."
  • Remember, back then, only those who owned land could vote.  
  • Man, this is a good chapter, worth reading. Quotations like: "The two-party system came into its own in this time. To give people a choice between two different parties and allow them, in a period of rebellion, to choose the slightly more democratic one was an ingenious mode of control," although Zinn says this evolved more out of necessity than some evil genius.
  •  In the 1830s, 40s, and 50s, the poor moved from rural areas to the cities, but tenements were crowded and there was no (socialist) infrastructure of water, sewers, trash collection, etc. However, at the same time, the middle class grew. "This was the advance guard of a growing class of white-collar workers and professionals in America who would be wooed enough and paid enough to consider themselves members of the bourgeois class, and to give support to that class in times of crisis." They would vote in ways that supported the existing system. 
  • I am reminded throughout this chapter of how in the United States today, both political parties support the rich oligarchy. The Right screams independence and small government but continue to give money and power to corporations. The Left (the Left in power, anyway) do the same thing, with Obama caving to special interests and continuing to empower Wall Street in the name of nominal growth without improving the quality of life for average or impoverished United States of Americans.
  • "In an economic system not rationally planned for human need, but developing fitfully, chaotically out of the profit motive, there seemed to be no way to avoid recurrent booms and slumps." This is as true of today as it was in 1837 and 1853.
I think one of the biggest problem faced by civilization in general is that people cannot, do not, or will not see the consequences of our actions. We do not see that the styrofoam to-go boxes hasten climate change, that letting the government balloon military spending means we're paying for the production of missiles, not the distribution of clean drinking water infrastructure. It's been happening for a long time. Industrialization sure made things easier and more pleasant for those like me on the upper end of society. I've never had to work in a factory. I've only a few times had to spend weeks on end in the same one-room space as my family, but never longer and without a toilet and running water. The earth has limited resources. It's always been a struggle for who controls the resources and who benefits the most from them, always on the backs of the unlucky and the weak. *rant rant rant*

Back in the day, we didn't have guns. People killed each other with their bare hands. Then they developed weapons, clubs and knives, which removed them a little bit from their victims. Then it was bows and arrows, guns, more powerful guns with higher ranges, cannons, bombs, missiles, nukes, chemical and biological weapons. Each time we remove ourselves; each time we engage in derivative violence, disconnected from those we affect. Sure, these derivations have happened parallel to achievements in sanitation, agriculture, etc., but at what cost? The survival of the fittest? How does morality fit in with the Darwinism? Does it need to?
  • "In this favored land of law and liberty, the road to advancement is open to all.... Every American knows that or ought to know that he has no better friend than the laws and that he needs no artificial combination for his protection," said one judge in the mid-1800s after imposing fines on some people who were desperate to escape their situations and looted the home of the local mayor. Am I really that radical now to refuse to take the judge seriously, to invoke instead the truth I see in Jensen's Premise Four?
  • From a handbill circulated throughout one city: "They have established the precedent that workingmen have no right to regulate the price of labor, or, in other words, the rich are the only judges of the wants of the poor man."
  • Nail on the head: "Class-consciousness was overwhelmed during the Civil War, both North and South, by military and political unity in the crisis of war. That unity was weaned by rhetoric and enforced by arms. It was a war proclaimed as a war for liberty, but working people would be attacked by soldiers if they dared to strike, Indians would be massacred in Colorado by the U.S. army, and those daring to criticize Lincoln's policies would be put in jail without trial-perhaps thirty thousand political prisoners."
  • Lincoln, meanwhile, used the distraction of the Civil War to pass into law pro-business and anti-people legislation (Zinn).
  • Zinn supports Jensen's Premise Four pretty clearly: "In premodern times, the maldistribution of wealth was accomplished by simple force. In modern times, exploitation is disguised-it is accomplished by law, which has the look of neutrality and fairness. By the time of the Civil War, modernization was well under way in the United States."
  • Boom and bust: "The crisis was built into a system which was chaotic in its nature, in which only the very rich were secure. It was a system of periodic crisis-1837, 1857, 1873 (and later: 1893, 1907, 1919, 1929)-that wiped out small businesses and brought cold, hunger, and death to working people while the fortunes of the Astors, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Morgans, kept growing through war and peace, crisis and recovery. During the 1873 crisis, Carnegie was capturing the steel market, Rockefeller was wiping out his competitors in oil."
  • People from many different types of trades formed unions and went on strike against their employers. This chapter talks about many of them but a summary of the railroad industry in particular is: "When the great railroad strikes of 1877 were over, a hundred people were dead, a thousand people had gone to jail, 100,000 workers had gone on strike, and the strikes had roused into action countless unemployed in the cities. More than half the freight on the nation's 75,000 miles of track had stopped running at the height of the strikes." In some cases, unions prevailed, but in others, the government called in the military or pitted immigrants against each other to keep business booming.
  • Zinn ends the chapter: "In 1877, the same year blacks learned they did not have enough strength to make real the promise of equality in the Civil War, working people learned they were not united enough, not powerful enough, to defeat the combination of private capital and government power. But there was more to come."

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