The American Revolution Reconsidered: Part Twenty-Five: Out of Time
For those of you who've been following this series, let me remind us all of a central, absolutely indispensable, foundational concept.
As I have said before---and I will say again---you cannot properly understand the history of America, from 1619-1776, without reference to the great motor that was churning back in England. Actually, upon reflection, I'm going to extend that to 1865.
In my opinion, you cannot properly understand the history of the United States of America, in the period of 1619-1865, without constant reference to the great motor that was churning back in England.
I am speaking of the thing I have termed the overwhelming social force of the relentless grind machine of the agricultural revolution-facilitated, primogeniture-driven enclosure movement, privatizing the commonly-held lands.
My source material for coming to that conclusion, as you know, is a paper by Simon Fairlie: "A Short History of Enclosure in Britain," which you can Google.
It is my view, as I've mentioned before, that the reason England created overseas colonies in the first place, was because it needed to find places to park the millions of people the government were dispossessing and pauperizing, through the enclosure process.
Why is there no socialism in the United States?
The purpose of this essay is to say a word about what happened between the settlers on mainland North America, and the indigenous peoples; but to tell that story in a single installment, in very, very broad strokes.
As you know, there was a fundamental conflict between the settlers' (particularly the English) and the indigenous peoples' approach to land administration.
The settlers were certainly not prepared to compromise and accommodate themselves, in any way, to the indigenous peoples' more collective disposition toward the use of the land. The reason for the newcomers' intransigence would have been the very fact that they and their ancestors had repudiated something very much like it back in England.
Simon Fairlie's paper let us know that the concept of private property, as we know it today, is not ancient, and had not always existed in Europe.
It is my contention that the English central government gradually changed that. They instituted the upward redistribution and privatization of land, at least initially, to satisfy what I have termed the noble and gentry siblings.
And I should mention, here, that when I invoke the word socialism, I am speaking very broadly and very generally in reference to the idea of collectivity, of any kind, in property and economic arrangements.
It is my contention that the settlers came over on the boat, with an inborn repudiation of collectivity, or "socialism." They had come to believe that it did not "work."
By "work," I do not mean to say that the settlers and their ancestors had had any serious problem with the mechanical operation of the system of collective land administration. By "work," I mean to say that I think the settlers found their hold on land to have been too flimsy under such a system, because the English central government had been able to sever them from their land rights, when it became convenient for them to do so.
Do you follow me?
The settlers came to thus reject collectivity, accept the logic of privatization, with a twist of democratizing it (1).
The settlers adopted private property. However, they felt the need to make provision which would prevent the "government" from taking it away from them. But the only force that would be strong enough to prevent the government from taking their property away from them would be government.
In other words, government would have to prevent The Government from taking away a person's land. This logic, I think, gives us, or at least contributes to the American system of separation of powers.
Out of Time
The theme of this essay is "out of time."
To understand what I mean by that, you have to understand that---as far as I can tell---the original intention of the settlers toward the indigenous peoples had not been annihilation. The original intention seems to have been something very different.
However, like everything else during 1619-1865, settler-Indian relations were forged in the pressure cooker of the relentless grind machine grinding back in England: the enclosure movement.
In fact, perhaps an easier way to approach the problem, would be to reference very recent history. The same kind of thing happened with the Israelis and Palestinians around twenty years ago.
What happened between the Israelis and Palestinians, in the early-1990s, is most instructive. As I sketch out the rundown, please keep in mind that in this case, the overwhelming social force of the relentless grind machine was the post-Cold War financial "shock therapy" that Russia was subjected to.
Journalist and author, Naomi Klein, lets us know that: "The last time there was a credible prospect of peace breaking out in the Middle East was the early nineties, a time when a powerful constituency of Israelis believed that continued conflict was no longer an option. Communism had collapsed, the information revolution was beginning, and there was a widespread conviction inside Israel's business community that the bloody occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, compounded by the boycott of Israel by Arab states, was putting Israel's economic future in peril" (2).
The Israeli business community had dreams of their country being transformed into the Singapore or Hong Kong of the Middle East, where top multinational firms install their head offices (3).
You may remember that in 1993 three men shared the Nobel Peace Prize: Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, and Israel's Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin. They were given the award due to their apparent success in bring off something called the Oslo Accords (4).
Now, the idea behind the Oslo Accords was to initially construct a peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, based on mutual economic interests. This was the so-called 'peace of markets.' It was hoped that this peace of markets would be the springboard upon which a political peace would later be forged: 'peace of flags' (5).
Hold on! A social bomb is about to go off!
Naomi Klein: "[T]wo factors that contributed to Israel's retreat are little understood and rarely discussed, both related to the unique ways the Chicago School free market crusade played out in Israel. One was the influx of Soviet Jews, which was a direct result of Russia's shock therapy experiment. The other was the flipping of Israel's export economy from one based on traditional goods and high technology to one disproportionately dependent on selling expertise and devices relating to counter-terrorism" (6).
As a consequence of losing the so-called Cold War, Russia was compelled to undergo a catastrophic free market rehabilitation of its economy. A consequence of this was runaway inflation, which reduced formerly middle class Russians to selling their personal belongings (tables, lamps, shoes, and the like) on the street, to get money for food (7).
The post-Cold War shock therapy program was the social bomb that was exploded in Russia.
Now then, as a consequence of the explosion of this social bomb in Russia, one million (1,000,000) Russian Jews left the former Soviet Union and moved to Israel, over the course of the 1990s, which would come to make up 11 percent of the total Jewish population (8).
Here's what happened:
1. A social bomb went off in Russia, in the early 1990s: namely, the overwhelming social force of the relentless grind machine (savage class exploitation) called financial shock therapy.
2. As a direct consequence, one million Russian Jews left the former Soviet Union and went to Israel; they would come to make up 11 percent of the total Jewish population in Israel.
3. This drastic demographic shift put tremendous pressure on the Israeli polity
4. Israel was conceived as the safe haven for persecuted Jews around the world.
5. For this reason, when the one million Russian Jews enter the state, these are people who must be given homestead NOW! They must be given a better life than what they left behind NOW!
6. This NOW! pressure completely overwhelmed the peace process with the Palestinians. The incoming Jewish settlers had to take precedence, from the point of view of the Israeli polity.
7. The Jewish-Palestinian ran out of time in the face of the bullet train that was the massive Jewish exodus from the former Soviet Union --- which, mind you, would not have happened in the first place had it not been for the class violence of financial shock therapy.
Naomi Klein: "Before the arrival of the Soviet refugees, Israel could not have severed itself for any length of time from the Palestinian populations in Gaza and the West Bank; its economy could no more survive without Palestinian labor than California could run without Mexicans. Roughly 150,000 Palestinians left their homes in Gaza and the West Bank every day and traveled to Israel to clean streets and build roads, while Palestinian farmers and tradespeople filled trucks with goods and sold them in Israel and in other parts of the territories. Each side depended on the other economically, and Israel took aggressive measures to prevent the Palestinian territories from developing autonomous trade relations with Arab states" (9).
One more definitive quote, I think.
Naomi Klein: "Many residents of the former Soviet Union who arrived in Israel penniless after seeing their life savings disappear in the shock therapy devaluations were easily lured into the occupied territories, where houses and apartments were far cheaper, and special loans and bonuses were on offer. Some of the most ambitious settlements --- such as Ariel in the West Bank, which boasts a university, a hotel and a Texas mini golf course --- aggressively recruited in the former Soviet Union, sending scouts and launching Russian-language web sites. Ariel managed to double its population thanks to this approach, and today it stands as a kind of mini-Moscow, with store signs advertising in both Hebrew and Russian. Half its residents are new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The Israeli group Peace Now estimates that about twenty-five thousand Israeli citizens living in illegal settlements fell into this category, and it also notes that many Russians made the move without a clear understanding of where they were going" (10).
Finally, let me just mention that on March 30, 1993, Israel began its policy of 'closure,' sealing off the border between Israel and the Palestinian territories for days or weeks at a time (11).
This situation between the Israelis and Palestinians is, in microcosm, exactly what went down between the settlers on the North American mainland and the indigenous peoples, including the constant westward push of the dispossessed populations and confinement of both Palestinians and Indians on "reservations."
Let's look at the settler-Indian situation.
The Tragic Arc of Settler-Indian Relations
As far as I can tell, the very first desire of the English settlers with respect to the Indian peoples, had not been to kill them off or even move them anywhere.
The very first desire of the English settlers may have been to biologically intermix with the Indians. This way, their mixed progeny and the subsequent generations, would just naturally inherit the land.
Just to be provocative, I'll go a step further and suggest to you that the English settlers, may have even fallen in love with the American Indian peoples, when the English and indigenous first met. I know how strange and wacky that sounds.
Just remember that falling in love with someone is about falling in love with the way that person makes you feel about yourself. If we keep that in mind, we can understand how the English settlers had initially come to fall in love with the indigenous folk of the North American mainland.
I believe that when the English settlers first met the Indian, something went off in their imaginations like: Wow, look at them! Our combined children would be born with perfect complexion.'
We begin by allowing historian Winthrop D. Jordan to set us straight about something.
Dr. Winthrop D. Jordan: "Whiteness,..., carried a special significance for Elizabethan Englishmen. It was, particularly when complemented by red, the color of perfect human beauty. This ideal was already centuries old in Elizabeth's time, and their fair Queen was its very embodiment: her cheeks were 'roses in a bed of lilies. (Elizabeth was naturally pale but like many ladies then and since she freshened her 'lilies' at the cosmetic table)" (12).
A Maryland promotional tract of 1666 set forth 'folk' beliefs about the Indians, which were still commonplace a century and a half later---(meaning the 1810s): 'Their skins are naturally white, but altered from their originals by the several dyings of Roots and Barks, that they prepare and make useful to metamorphize their hydes into a dark Cinamon brown. The hair of their head is black, long and harsh, but where Nature hath appointed the situation of it any where else, they divert it (by ancient custom) from its growth, by pulling it up hair by hair by the root in its primitive appearance' (13).
Dr. Jordan continued: "There was little dissent to the commonplace assertion that the Indians' tawny color resulted wholly or in part from their custom of daubing themselves with bear grease, oils, or the like from a well-stocked cabinet of natural cosmetics" (14).
In other words, the Indians merely devoted themselves to year-round tanning, like the actor George Hamilton.
Jordan also pointed out, crucially, that the strictures against miscegenation, which were vigorously applied to blacks, were almost wholly absent with respect to the Indians. The only exceptions among the thirteen colonies were North Carolina and Virginia (for a very brief period). Not only that, several colonists were even willing to positively advocate intermarriages with Indians (15).
Patrick Henry pushed a bill, through two readings of the Virginia House "... which offered bounties (if that is the proper term) for children of Indian-white marriages."
Again, Winthrop D. Jordan: "It is suggestive, too, that Virginia's statutory definition of mulattoes extended the taint of Negro ancestry through three generations, and of Indian ancestry through only one" (16).
That is a big deal in this land of the "one-drop rule."
Thomas Jefferson, the Virginian, weighs in
Thomas Jefferson was one of the acknowledged intellectual giants of the eighteenth century, certainly eighteenth century America. He was, among other things, the third President of the United States; and the man on hand to accept the Louisiana Purchase (1803) from the French, which than doubled American territory.
Jefferson was a Virginia. Virginia was the central colony at the time; it, along with Maryland (together comprising the Chesapeake), set the tone, in many ways, for the rest of the thirteen colonies, on a range of considerations.
However much a prolific author of elaborate letters Jefferson might have been, only one book was ever published under his name: Notes on the State of Virginia.
Winthrop D. Jordan: "Some of the most heartfelt passages in the Notes on Virginia were devoted to the defense of the Indian against the famous French naturalist, Buffon, whose aspersions Jefferson declared to be 'just as true as the fable of AEsop'" (17).
Jefferson drew attention to the life 'circumstances' as an explanation for the seemingly more rudimentary way of life of the indigenous. He believed that in the appropriate cultural circumstances, Indians would become proper white men and women and children (18).
Jefferson explicitly expressed the hope for Indian-white biological amalgamation. He once addressed an Indian chief thusly: 'We, like you, are Americans, born in the same land, and having the same interests' (19).
This so-called Founding Father fervently hoped that the Indians could be persuaded to give up their hunter-gatherer lifestyles and embrace farming. The ideal situation, as he conceived it, was for both white Americans and Indians to merge into a new people; and on this occasion the Indians would "cede the resultant surplus of land to the United States" (20).
Thomas Jefferson went on to say: 'In truth, the ultimate point of rest and happiness for them is to let our settlements and their meet and blend together, to intermix and become one people.' And furthermore, this would 'best promote the interests of the Indians and ourselves, and finally consolidate our whole country to one nation only' (21).
Ten years later, in 1813, Jefferson wrote, with regret, that the war had now intervened to throw a monkey wrench into things. Otherwise, he was sure that: 'They would have mixed their blood with ours, and been amalgamated and identified with us within no distant period of time' (22).
Very Quick Conclusion
1. Consider the two scenarios (the Palestinian-Israeli in the early-1990s and the English/European settlers and Indigenous Americans in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries).
2. I have already said that the former---the Palestinian-Israeli situation---was, in microcosm, the mirror image of what happened with the English/European settlers and the Indigenous people.
3. Having said that, it is naturally the case that settler-Indian situation was the macrocosm of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, we have reviewed.
4. I am saying that both situations saw that both scenarios saw the "best intentions," or a relatively decent (from a settler perspective) disposition toward the "natives" (either Palestinians or Indians) was thwarted by a scarcity of time.
5. In both scenarios this scarcity of time was caused by a social bomb that blew up in another country, thousands of miles away.
6. The eruptions of these social bombs caused the mass movements of waves of large numbers of people from the "bomb site" to the designated colony, putting enormous pressure on the governing settler body of that colony, to make accommodations for those incoming immigrants, of the same ethnicity or original nationality.
a. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian situation of the early nineties, as outlined by Naomi Klein, the social bomb was the financial "shock therapy" to which post-Cold War Russia had been subjected, and the conditions of which, produced one million economic refugees who left the former Soviet Union for Israel in the 1990s.
b. In the case of the settlers on the North American mainland, the social bomb I'm talking about is the thing I have been referencing all series long: the overwhelming social force of the relentless grind machine of the agricultural revolution-facilitated, primogeniture-driven enclosure movement, privatizing commonly-held lands. This bomb first went off sometime in the early sixteenth century, and according to Simon Fairlie's paper, kept going off in England, until about 1850.
c. I might also mention that according to Mr. Fairlie's paper, England had not been the only Western European country with an enclosure movement. There were others, but England's program of land privatization had been the most severe.
7. Whether Indian tribes wanted to assimilate and merge, or not, or something in between, these processes were overwhelmed by the torrents of people catapulted out of England and Europe by the social bomb of enclosure. These were people whom the settler administration had to make accommodation for NOW!
Okay, that's enough, I think. I'll leave it there.
Thank you for reading!
1. Beard, Charles A. An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. Dover Publications, 2004
2. Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt & Company), 2007. 429
5. ibid, 430
7. ibid, 225
8. ibid, 430-431
9. ibid, 431
10. ibid, 432
12. Jordan, Winthrop D. White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro 1550-1812. University of North Carolina Press, 1968. 8
13. ibid, 241
15. ibid, 163
17. ibid, 429
18. ibid, 478
19. ibid, 480
More by this Author
This is a commentary of the Cuban Revolution of January 1, 1959.
We're going to address a question: Why did some blacks fight on the side of the Revolution and others fight for the British?
- 0On the Occasion of the Death of Fidel Castro at Ninety: The Cuban Revolution in Historical and Sociological Perspective
What I want to try to do is to help us achieve clarity on just exactly what the Cuban Revolution of January 1, 1959 was all about.
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