Thursday, May 18, 2006


Marx, Jefferson, Jesus and Okies

I call it chasing rabbits. That's when I'm already hip deep staying the course in some research project -- and I blink and realize I've spent an hour, or a day, going off on a tangent. Chasing a rabbit.

Boy howdy, this morning, while strolling near the end of David A. Shannon's The Socialist Party in America: A History, (New York: The MacMillan Co., 1955), I stumbled across a set of tracks that, if followed, might help explain the appeal of Socialism in rural Oklahoma in the 1910s and 1920s, when Oklahoma had more paid-up Socialists than any other state.

They were Christian Socialists, which was not and IS not the oxymoron those on the modern Christian Right would have people think. The only people involved or interested in politics who don't see a social-political obligation to others laid at the feet of those who follow Jesus are right-wingers. Why? Because they can't find their politics in Jesus's words or example. Moderates, liberals, and those further to the left can, quite frankly. For a discussion of this see "Jesus is a liberal."

Anyhoo, the rabbit tracks I found have to do with a specific feature of the Appeal to Reason, the great old Socialist newspaper published in Girard, Kansas. I'll have to reread Agrarian Socialism: Marx, Jefferson and Jesus in the Oklahoma Countryside, to be sure, but I mighta done found a largely unturned track of history that I can explore.


What a great title! Have you read the book before? Is it likely to be in my library...I'll be checking that one out.

As a reinforcement for your comments about the religious right, I'll quote Gandhi:

“The only people who do not think Jesus was pacifist are Christians.”
I have read it. Seems like the author relied largely on local newsapers published in Oklahoma at the time, as well as Pentecostal church records.

Yep, Oklahoma was crawlin' with tongues-talkin' pew-jumpin' brayin' at the moon Pentecostal SOCIALISTS! Real RED-letter (pre-2000-election "red") Christians. :-)

It might be in an academic library in your neck of the woods, or through interlibrary loan.
What a great find! That would be an enjoyable read.

For an even earlier "socialist" community, see the Book of Acts, Chapter 2:

42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Holy crap! Literature is crawling with commies!

I had heard that early pentecostals were often pacifists, as were early Nazarenes, and it isn't surprising to find the socialism tie there, too, what with their eager desire to live like the early church did.

I would imagine it was the Big Commie scare of the 50s that so thoroughly scared the mainstream church away from anything that smacked of socialism.
Well, World War II didn't help. The Socialists hated fascism, but they hated war just as much. The movement -- and that's all it really ever was, not a political party per se -- fell the heck apart.
It's not such a big jump from populism to socialism. Remember what was happening during that period in Oklahoma. Also remember where they all came from originally. We had whole towns and cities built soley on religious, or political, or racial grounds back then. Heck we even had an all female town. No males allowed.
Now you got me thinking about the Farmer's Co-op and Farmer's Union meetings from when I was a kid in SW Oklahoma. We would all meet out at the lake or at a large school in town. The whole family would go. The Adults would go off and argue for hours about something. Mean while we watched movies and cartoons. A couple of times the meetings went so late that they started the movie over for the second time, and half of us fell asleep before it was over.
What in the world were they talking about for all that time?
Oh, yes and all the hot dogs with chile and soda pop you wanted, no limits. Childhood bliss. But my dad would sometimes be mad for days after those meetings. Didn't occur to me until half a century latter that they were doing serious stuff there.
Christianity and Socialism are quite complementary. New Testament, ya know. And quite in line with my beliefs.
Meanwhile, Capitalism and Christianity are totally at odds with each other, so it's not only ironic, but tragic, that America prides itself on both.

Personally, I think we'd do better off adopting the Ferengi Rules Of Acquisition and admit that we're moneygrubbers.
Re, "Ferengi Rules Of Acquisition"


People like Tugboat don't get this, nor believe it when I say it:

Capitalism is fine, as long as it tied to a stake, tamped down, controlled, FOR ITS OWN SAKE -- AND its excesses compensated for with social legislation.

Left to its own devices, capitalism will burn itself out and hurt everybody who gets in its way, except the few who would eventually wind up with all the toys.
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