Hidden History: Shays’ Rebellion – the First Civil War

Shays’ Rebellion 1797

Real American History (2013)

Film Review

This documentary is a very tasteful cartoon about Shay’s Rebellion – in my view one of the most important events of US history. Which for some strange reason I never studied in school.

It begins by describing the painful discovery by Revolutionary War veterans that the tyranny of the Eastern banking establishments was just as unjust and brutal as that of the king of England.

When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the farmers who served in the Continental Army returned home to find the discharge pay they were given (in British pounds) was worthless. All 13 states were on the verge of economic collapse, due to heavy war debts they owed to European banks. Eighty percent of the prison inmates in Western Massachusetts, where Daniel Shay had his farm, were charged with non-payment of debts.

Shay Organizes Veterans to Shut Down Debtors Courts

In 1786 Shays, who had been dragged into court twice over merchant debts, began organizing other Revolutionary War veterans – most of whom also faced debtor prison or seizure of their farms. He assembled a force of 9,000 supporters and, in bands of 1,000 – 2,000, shut down numerous debtors courts all over western Massachusetts.

In response, Samuel Adams,* president of the Massachusetts senate, pushed through a Riot Act,** which suspended the right of habeas corpus and called for any meeting of more than 12 dissidents to be tried for treason. In addition, the governor of Massachusetts bankers and merchants to finance a mercenary army to March against Shays’ rebels.

Shays’ Rebels March on Boston

Up to this point, Shays and his supporters had merely desired to reform the system. However both the Riot Act and the new mercenary army radicalized them. In January 1787, they embarked on a mission to seize the weapons from in the federal arsenal in Springfield and marched on Boston. Although they had much greater numbers (22,000 vs 900 militia), they were foiled when a member of the state militia intercepted one of their messengers.

Although Shays fled to flee to Vermont, his supporters continued to shut down debtors trials for the next several years.

Secret Constitutional Convention Overturns Articles of Confederation

The wealthy bankers and merchants who governed the newly independent states were so concerned Shays’ Rebellion and similar farmers revolts that they convened a convention in Philadelphia, where they met in secret to overturn the Articles of Confederation – the founding document of the United States of America. The latter was replaced with a federal Constitution which granted them powers to tax, raise a federal army, issue money and suppress dissent.

While the filmmakers acknowledge the enactment of the US Constitution was essentially a coup stripping states and local government of power and sovereignty, they maintain it was necessary to prevent poor people from rebelling against their oppressed state.

Obviously I don’t agree with this conclusion. Many other options were possible, such as abolishing debtors prisons, ending US reliance on the British pound and European banks, renouncing European debt, ending the exclusive privilege of private banks to create money out of thin air and allowing states to issue their own debt-free currency.***

The Iroquois Confederation, on which the Articles of Confederation were based, operated very effectively for 200 years before it was defeated militarily by the US government.


*This is ironic as Samuel Adams was one of the primary radicals who led the movement that became the American Revolutionary War.

**The right of habeas corpus was a basic right based on British common law and incorporated into many state constitutions.

***The issuing of state currency is specifically forbidden in Section 10 of the US Constitution: “No State shall  . . .coin Money; Emit Bills of Credit, make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payments of Debts.” Unlike states, private banks are permitted to issue as much money as they want. See How Banks Create Money Out of Thin Air

 

 

 

Engels on the Origins of Class Society

The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

By Friedrich Engels (1884)

Free PDF: Origin of the Family

Book review

Relying on the pioneering work of Lewis Morgan and other early anthropologists, Engels traces the origins of class society back to the agricultural revolution (around 10,000 BC when our hunter gatherer ancestors transformed themselves into farmers). The advent of agriculture resulted in a “surplus” of food, which became the responsibility of an elite (kings and priests) to safeguard for the winter and hard times.

The production of an agricultural surplus also enables the accumulation of wealth and the desire to bequeath one’s riches to descendants. This can only happen if men can trace the paternity of their offspring. Men’s desire to pass on wealth resulted in the introduction of the marriage contract to bind all women to a single man (while men were allowed unlimited partners)  and the replacement of matriarchal society with patriarchy.

Engels goes on to trace how this early wealth creation led to the concept of private property and the feudalistic state. To have a state you have to have a king or supreme leader. He maintains power via a standing army and rewards “knights” in his army with gifts of private property. And because property is no longer owned communally, peasants are forced off the land that provides their subsistence and forced to go to work for knights and lords who have expropriated their land.

The book contains a fascinating section about the way the Iroquois Nation governed themselves – including their use of consensus in decision making, inheritance through the female line and their collective ownership of property. He also outlines how various Iroquois tribes were united in a Confederacy governed by a Federal Council (which formed the basis for state-federal structure the colonists adopted in the Articles of Confederation).

There is also a section about democracy in ancient Athens and the coalescence of Latin tribes into a single Roman government. The final chapter concerns the amalgamation of the various Germanic tribes into the states of Germany and France.

Emancipate Yourself from Mental Slavery

“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery – none but ourselves can free our minds” – Bob Marley Redemption Song

PsyWar: the Real Battlefield is the Mind

Directed by Scott Noble (2010)

Film Review

PsyWar is about the fundamental role of propaganda in a political system that pretends to guarantee  “democracy” in a society that simultaneously promotes extreme wealth inequality.

It begins with an examination of the vital role propaganda plays in war time, with a special focus on the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and World War I. It then explores the morphing of the World War I propaganda machine into the modern public relations industry.

The film moves on to the concept of “polyarchy,” which the filmmakers maintain is the most accurate description of government in the industrial north. In a polyarchy, power is closely guarded by a wealthy elite and the population remains passive except for periodic elections in which they vote for the elites of their choice. When a tiny minority controls nearly all the wealth, “democratic” elections are only possible if the majority is systematically controlled with psychological propaganda.

Big breakthroughs in transportation and communication technology at the end of the 19th century caused a major crisis for polyarchy, as they fed the rise of popular resistance movements (eg the populist and progressive movement, International Workers of the World and militant labor movements). The response to this crisis was the public relations industry.

The Rendon Group and Perception Management

The documentary introduces us to the Rendon Group, the private “perception management” company the Bush administration paid to manage propaganda leading up to the US invasion of Iraq. Immediately after 911, the CIA paid the Rendon Group $23 million to generate anti-Iraq propaganda. They also paid them to manage “public perception” during the US bombing of Afghanistan.

The Dirty Secret Behind the US Constitution

PsyWar devotes nearly 15 minutes to the secret framing of the US Constitution by a group of rich landholders and merchants to overturn the Articles of Confederation and protect their wealth from the “tyranny of the majority.” It contrasts the system of direct democracy of the Iroquois Federation (on which the Articles of Confederation were based), where all members of society (including women) had direct input into policy decisions.

The Crisis of Capitalism

According to PsyWar the modern public relations machine performs two vital functions in maintaining the stability of our current capitalist system. The first addresses chronic overproduction. One of the main flaws of capitalism is that once a population’s basic needs are met, the need for continuing production ceases. Our ruling elite could have addressed overproduction by reducing work hours and increasing wages (as they have recently done in Sweden*), but this would have hurt profits. Instead, under the guidance of Edward Bernays (known as the father of public relations) they ramped up consumption by bombarding the masses with pro-consumption propaganda deliberately playing on their psychological insecurities.

The second major role played by modern public relations is to “manufacture consent” of the governed to their overall powerlessness and passivity. Manufacturing consent is a term coined by journalist (and former government intelligence/propaganda agent) Walter Lippmann. It was Lippman’s view that the majority of Americans are meddlesome outsiders who are totally incompetent to govern themselves.


*In October, Sweden announced they were moving to a six-hour work day to improve productivity and improve work-life balance Sweden introduces 6 hour work day

Reclaiming Our History

plutocracy

Plutocracy: Political Repression in the United States

Scott Noble (2015)

Film Review

As German philosopher Walter Benjamin famously stated, “History is written by the victors.” In the US, most history books are written by and for the corporate oligarchs who run our government. Plutocracy is the first documentary to comprehensively examine early American history from the perspective of the working class. Part II (Solidarity Forever) will cover the late 19th Century to the early twenties. The filmmaker is currently seeking donations to complete the project. If you’d like to help, you can donate to their Patreon account.

The film can’t be embedded but can be viewed free at Plutocracy

Plutocracy starts with Shay’s Rebellion in 1786, the insurrection of Massachusetts farmers against the courts and banks that were fleecing them of their meager wealth and property. Similar rebellions in Rhode Island and Virginia would cause leading US bankers, merchants and plantation owners to organize a secret convention to create a central government and standing army. Each of the 13 original states, which in 1787 were still independent and sovereign, sent delegates to Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation.

Instead of revising the Articles, as authorized by their state legislatures, the delegates closed the meeting to the public and voted to replace them with a federal constitution. The latter substantially limited the freedom and power of state legislatures and ordinary Americans.

Plutocracy moves on to cover the massive Irish immigration of the mid-nineteenth century and the appalling squalor so-called “white Negroes” lived in. During the 19th century, 80% of babies born to Irish immigrants died in infancy.

The film touches only briefly on the Civil War, describing laws that enabled robber barons like John Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and Cornelius Vanderbilt to evade the Civil War draft by paying a poor person $300 to replace them.

It offers a detailed depiction of post-Civil War Reconstruction, which coincided with the 1871 Paris commune and saw blacks collaborating with poor whites to establish the South’s first public schools and hospitals. This was in addition to the election of numerous former slaves to judgeships and legislative positions.

Their eagerness to return Negroes to productive status on plantations led northern industrialists to pressure Congress to end Reconstruction by removing the federal troops protecting the rights of former slaves. It also led to their passive acceptance of unconstitutional Jim Crow laws and Ku Klux Klan terrorism. The chief aim of both was to prevent poor backs and whites from associating with one another.

The federal troops withdrawn from the South were redeployed in genocidal campaigns against Native Americans and Mexicans. By the end of the 19th century, not only had Mexico ceded half their territory to the US (including California, Texas, Utah, Nevada and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Montana – in the 1984 Treaty of Guadalupe), but US corporations enjoyed de facto control of all land remaining under sovereign Mexican control.

Stripping the Native Americans and Mexicans of their land in the West, readied the US for the rise of the robber barons of industry (Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie and Vanderbilt) and a corrupt system of federal and local government run entirely by bribery and patronage.

The corruption and squalid living conditions of the late 19th century would give rise to militant trade unionism, socialism, anarchism and populism. Plutocracy depicts the Pullman and similar strikes in which strikers were brutally beaten and killed by Pinkerton’s Detectives and other goons hired by industrial bosses, as well as national guardsmen and, on several occasions, federal troops.

The film opens with a poignant depiction of the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest labor uprising in US history. It’s the largest armed uprising since the Civil War, involving 10,000 coal miners. Denise Giardini memorializes the Battle of Blair Mountain in her 1987 novel Storming Heaven.


*Rockefeller and Morgan had a relative monopoly on the banks, Carnegie on steel and Vanderbilt on the railroads.