Socialism in America

Bernie Sanders is not the first person to try to establish socialism in America:

If Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination and goes on to beat Donald Trump in November, we will have our very first full-blown socialist (actually, Communist) President of the United States. Heaven forbid. But it will not be the first time socialism has been tried there.

Various attempts have been made – or at least called for. Indeed, from the very earliest days it was briefly tried, and it almost destroyed the early colonists. Early in the 1600s when the Pilgrims first arrived, socialist experiments in the New World were being implemented.

For the first two years after their arrival, common ownership was tried – but it was a dismal failure. I have already written about this failed experiment, so let me simply quote parts of what I have said earlier. In an article from last year I mentioned one commentator who said this:

During those first two growing seasons, the tillable land was worked in common, and the meager harvest shared equally. Bradford’s account places the daily corn ration during the worst of times, incredibly, at just 3 kernels. Starvation and disease were constants. Clearly, the communal approach wasn’t working. Bradford writes that most of the work was performed by a half dozen of the strongest young men, whom the whole community relied on for sustenance. So Bradford set a new course. Instead of holding all the land in common, it was divided between the colonists to plant and work themselves.

And another author I quoted from said this:

The “common property” approach killed off about half the settlers. Governor Bradford recorded in his diary that everybody was happy to claim their equal share of production, but production only shrank. Slackers showed up late for work in the fields, and the hard workers resented it. It’s called “human nature.” The disincentives of the socialist scheme bred impoverishment and conflict until, facing starvation and extinction, Bradford altered the system. He divided common property into private plots, and the new owners could produce what they wanted and then keep or trade it freely. Communal socialist failure was transformed into private property/capitalist success.

Another equally famous attempt at socialism in America lasted just as long and was just as great a failure. Many have written about this episode. Let me here draw upon one excellent resource. In Joshua Murachik’s Heaven on Earth (Encounter Books, 2002, 2019) there is a detailed chapter devoted to Robert Owen and his New Harmony socialist experiment.

Image of Heaven on Earth: The Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism
Heaven on Earth: The Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism by Muravchik, Joshua (Author) Amazon logo

Robert Owen was a Welsh textile manufacturer, social reformer, and utopian socialist (1771-1858). Several of his sons – Robert Dale Owen (1801-1877) and William Owen (1802-1842) – went with him to America to establish a communal homeland. In January 1825 they set up their socialist utopia along the Wabash River in Indiana.

They bought some land with a small town and called it New Harmony. The communal experiment attracted some excitement and attention, especially among intellectuals, and around a thousand residents eventually settled in it. But it proved to be an economic failure. New Harmony lasted just over two years and was dissolved in April 1827.

Muravchik tells us about three key motivating factors – or rather, three key dislikes – of the senior Owen. He shares this from a speech Owen gave in July of 1826:

Man, up to this hour, has been, in all parts of the earth a slave to a Trinity of the most monstrous evils that could be combined to inflict mental and physical evil upon the whole race. . . . Private, or individual property – absurd and irrational systems of religion – and marriage, founded on individual property combined with some of these irrational systems of religion.

Hmm, he sounds like a lot of other more recent socialists and communists: a hatred of God, a hatred of private property, and a hatred of marriage and family. But simply by seeking to do away with private property, Owen sealed his own fate.

Muravchik quotes Robert Dale Owen, who seems to have been much more sober minded about such things than his father. He said this was the “most potent factor” in the collapse of New Harmony:

All cooperative schemes which provide equal remuneration to the skilled and industrious and the ignorant and idle, must work their own downfall, for by this unjust plan of remuneration they must of necessity eliminate the valuable members – who find their services reaped by the indigent – and retain only the improvident, unskilled, and vicious members.

Muravchik goes on to say this:

The failure of New Harmony cost Robert Owen much of his fortune, but it did not shake his faith in his ideas. He paid it little more attention than he paid to the arguments of his adversaries. In his autobiography he devoted a total of three sentences to the entire New Harmony venture, commenting that he “found the population of the States far too undeveloped at that period for the practice of a full true and social life.”

Hmm, sounds like another socialist millionaire today: Bernie. He can pontificate all he likes about how ordinary Americans must tighten their belts to save the planet and to be true, ‘caring’ Americans, while he enjoys his three homes, his private jet travel, and all the rest of the perks of the good life.

Muravchik winds up his chapter by noting how Owen’s children subverted his socialist dream:

His four sons and one of his daughters remained in America and contributed more than their share to shaping and strengthening the country that would prove to be the insuperable obstacle to socialism. They were among the several hundred survivors of Owen’s experiment who took possession of individual holdings at New Harmony. Relieved of his blueprints, the community thrived.

And his closing paragraphs are equally telling. Robert Dale Owen went on to become a member of the US House of Representatives, and he said this about the difference between the Old World and the New:

“In Europe, where men are trained to bear any and every thing, even steady, respectable heads of families are content to be life-renters or mere tenants at will.… But here, fortunately, the state of things is very different.… [A]ny man who has the smallest share of honest ambition, and who can wield an axe or plough a corn-row, chooses to have his own homesteading [from which no] haughty landlord [can] dispossess him. So ought it to be every where; so is it, in these United States.”

Thus, the son who had written of his rapturous expectations as he first crossed the Atlantic to join his father’s colony found the “Land of Promise” not in New Harmony, but in America itself.

Yes, America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. But all that might be undone if folks like Bernie and their supporters get their way. Clearly we have not learned the lessons of history, including the history of socialism’s various failures in the United States.

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11 Replies to “Socialism in America”

  1. Bella Dodd tried to warn us in the 50’s and Joe McCarthy. Now kids are not taught History or Civics. Scary

  2. One more small detail about Robert Owen. Late in his life he became an eager convert to spiritualism and claimed to have mediumistic contact with the spirits of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and others. When you don’t follow God, you’ll end up following anything else…..

    On another note, some information on communist enthusiasts in the USA way back in the 1880’s:

  3. Thank you Bill. The alarming reality is the brainwashing of our children and youth.
    Following are three important and insightful quotes (not mine) from my forthcoming book ‘Hope Amidst the Storm’:
    “The issue is part of a larger culture war that the West has been losing for the last half century, ever since our university departments of social science and humanities were captured by the radical left. That loss has metastasized to affect our journalists and school teachers, who are trained at university.” (130)
    “I do not understand why our society is providing public funding to institutions and educators whose stated, conscious and explicit aim is the demolition of the culture that supports them . . . If radical right-wingers were receiving state funding for political operations disguised as university courses, as the radical left-wingers clearly are, the uproar from progressives across North American would be deafening. “(131)
    “Over 90% of professors today identify as being liberal humanist leftists/Marxist socialists.” (132)
    Finally, I urge all your readers to lose no time in obtaining, viewing and sharing widely the vitally important and insightful AgendaDVDs.

  4. Excellent article Bill – thank you! For reminding us how easy it is to slip into evil when our eyes are closed or apathetic. The other day I sent out 80 emails showing the removal of the U.S. flag before the democrats last debate. Only one person out of 80 commented on the disgust at seeing our flag removed prior to the debate.

    The slaughter of over 100 million babies since the early 70’s has helped to pave the road for mass evil in the U.S. We have been desensitized to all forms of abomination here. More Christians are for abortion than are against it or it would have ended decades ago.

    “For evil to exist in a nation all it takes is for good men to be silent.” Edmund Burke, Irish Statesmen 1700s.

  5. Bill, This column should be required reading for any prospective voter.
    Mark Robinson is a candidate for Lt. Governor in North Carolina.
    I am overwhelmed by his promise to work for schools to “Educate rather than Indoctrinate!”
    I am afraid that we have allowed schools to become social laboratories where theorists indoctrinate our impressionable kids. In our professors minds and in most textbooks history began about 1960. We are graduating illiterate citizens in civic history. The results speak for themselves.

  6. Excellent article Bill. Thank you. It breaks my heart that we are hurtling into the future with socialism and Marxism almost inevitable in Western countries. Someone once said ‘It is good to learn from your own experiences.’ But an even wiser person said ‘It is even better to learn from the experiences of others lest we make the same mistakes!’ How true but difficult for the next generation if they have been denied the benefit of hindsight through learning from history or if they learn from history that is constantly been re-written to suit the socialist agenda. Socialism has never in history accomplished the utopia it always promises but ends rather in misery and suffering. May GOD continue to bless America and preserve it as the land of the free -free from Bernie Sanders and his socialist agenda! Cheryl Ciccotosto

  7. Owen Sr comments sound like “the system didn’t fail the people, the people failed the system”. It is the same story with every socialist as to why it failed – it wasn’t socialism that failed but it was implemented wrong. We are the right people so it will work this time. Every time it takes more and more dead to prove them wrong! In the 20th century socialist systems have claimed over 100 million lives. How many more will the 21st century claim??

  8. Oh how wonderful are effects of personal motivation!
    One of our friends tells the story how, just today, the hospital care being given to his very sick wife took a dramatic turn for the better when the staff found out that she was well known and respected by important people in the area.
    There may be more stick than carrot in this example.
    Socialism can only offer an ideological carrot, and has to depend on the stick to get anyone but the most conscientious to do anything properly.

    Have you heard the one about the missionary with a glass eye?
    Concerned that the mission projects would grind to a halt while he was away for an extended time, he took out his glass eye, put it on a fence post and said “I’ll be watching you while I am gone”.

  9. I am giving a BSF Lecture on Acts 2 next Monday.
    When I was at high school, a Classics teacher of mine described Acts 2:42-47 as Utopian Communism.
    In one sense yes, as God is our “benign dictator”.
    However, the early believers, having been born again, & filled with the Holy Spirit, did this voluntarily, so none of the community members would be in need; & this was an era when the church, rather than government, provided social services.
    Government would confiscate your hard0earned property, & give it to one(s) who have not worked for it.
    A late Auntie (who sadly was unrepentant to the end of her days); had a great illustration for Communism.
    I have 2 TVs, but I worked long hours for the money to buy them. She has no TVs, because she is lazy & doesn’t work – the government forces me to give one of the TVs to her, even though I work & she doesn’t.
    Not unlike the example you gave of what happened in the failed Socialist experiment of the Pilgrims in the early days of the Colony.
    Those who have lived under Communism shout out loudly how terrible & horrible it is – why aren’t our young people listening, so history doesn’t repeat itself?

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