Class Society and Inequality: Debunking the Myth

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

By Nancy Isenberg

Viking (2016)

Book Review

White Trash is a meticulously documented investigation of the historical roots of class inequality in the US. Despite the warm and fuzzy founding myths all American children are taught in school, the foundation for class inequality was laid during the early colonization of North America. The wealthy English elite who financed the colonies viewed the New World as a giant workhouse for England’s surplus poor (following the Enclosure Acts that drove them off the commons). British vagrants, vagabonds and convicts were both voluntarily and involuntarily transported to North America as apprentices, indentured servants and impressed* seaman. A surprising number of indentured servants, particularly in New England, were teenagers.

Most indentured servants (who functioned as virtual slaves) were promised land on completing their term of servitude. However nearly all went on to lose their land to property speculators and rigged taxation schemes, becoming squatters on the outskirts of established settlements. Comprising at least half of the population of most colonies, they were used by colonial elites as a wedge to encroach on Native American lands – only to be driven off their farms once the land was cleared and planted.

The lifestyle enjoyed by these squatters and their descendants was one of entrenched poverty and malnutrition, as well as hookworm, pellagra and other chronic illnesses associated with malnutrition. The disparaging attitude of wealthy elites and the emerging middle class towards this population clearly debunks ubiquitous corporate media claims about the “classless” nature of US society. Labels applied to them have changed over time, but the most prevalent have included “white trash,” “rednecks,” “mudsills,” and “mudeaters” (mud eating is a common symptom of hookworm). During her recent election campaign, Hillary Clinton referred to them as “deplorables.”

Isenberg reveals that post-World War II industrialization would lead many of these families migrate to northern cities, where they became “trailer trash.”

The wealthy elites have alternated between blaming white trash squatters and their descendants for their miserable circumstances and attributing their problems to genetic aberrations. The latter would lead to the eugenics movement and forced sterilization in the 20th century.

For me the most interesting parts of the book concerned the election of Andrew Jackson, the first “white trash” president, and the effects of slavery and the plantation system in creating a permanent “squatter class.” During his term as President, Jackson was repeatedly mocked by the elite-owned press for his lack of refinement – in much the same way as President-elect Donald Trump.

Isenberg assets that the creation of massive plantations maintained by slave labor created a permanent “squatter class” by driving an unprecedented number of poor white settlers off their land. She also maintains that the secession of seven states (which led to the Civil War) was more about preserving racial and class hierarchies than about preserving states rights. An astonishing number of poor southern whites either fought for the Union side, deserted or participated in food riots to protest shortages stemming from the exclusive dedication of prime agricultural land to cotton (rather than food).


*Impressment refers to the involuntary kidnapping of men, during the 18th and 19th century, into a military or naval force.

Originally published in Dissident Voice

The Wall Street Elites Who Financed Hitler

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States – Prequel B

Directed by Oliver Stone

Film Review

Prequel B starts with the period of social repression that followed the return of GIs from World War I. US leaders were extremely concerned they would spread the oral sex techniques they had learned from French women. Alcohol prohibition, a crackdown on prostitution, rampant antisemitism (even Harvard restricted Jewish admissions) and anti-immigrant sentiment, and the eugenics movement (accompanied by forced sterilization of convicts, the “feeble minded” and promiscuous women) were all typical of this intense repression.

During the same period, Wall Street banks greatly reduced their investment in agriculture and manufacture, preferring the easier profits to be had from cheap credit and speculation. In 1929, a disastrous decision by central banks to increase interest rates triggered a deadly global depression, setting the stage for the rise of fascism in Europe.

Back in the US, Generals MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton charged 40,000 World War I veterans and their families with infantry and tanks and burned their tents. The latter, calling themselves the Bonus Army, were demanding immediate payment of the bonus they had been promised for serving in World War I.

Stone describes the 1930s as a radical period of social experimentation, in part due to Roosevelt’s sweeping New Deal social reforms (including Social Security, unemployment insurance, agricultural subsidies, aid to dependent children and Federal paid work schemes), and in part due to aggressive industrial unionization and intense interest on the part of American intellectuals in Russia’s experiment with communism. Hundreds of thousands of Americans would join the Communist Party, while numerous prominent writers (including Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Sinclair Lewis, Richard Wright, Clifford Odets, and Sherwood Anderson) were communist sympathizers.

During the same period, the America’s wealthy elites were more inclined to support Hitler. Key individuals who helped finance the Third Reich include Henry Ford, Prescott Bush, William Randolph Hearst, the Morgan brothers, Allen Dulles (first CIA director) and John Foster Dulles (Secretary of State under Eisenhower). The key US banks involved were Bank of International Settlements, Chase Manhattan, JP Morgan and United Banking Corporation (Brown Brothers Harriman). Specific US companies that provided Hitler with armaments, military vehicles, aircraft, oil and other material support include Kodak, ITT, Dupont, Westinghouse, Standard Oil, Singer, GE, Pratt and Whitney, United Fruit, Singer, Douglas Aircraft and International Harvester.

In 1933, some of these same industrialists would also try to instigate a coup – foiled by General Smedley Butler – to remove Roosevelt from office.

 

A 241 Year Fairy Tale About American Democracy

war is a lie

 

War is a Lie

By David Swanson

Just World Books (2016)

Book Review

In War is a Lie, author David Swanson presents extensive historical evidence that the US has never been a democratic republic – that this is a carefully crafted fairy tale the ruling elite has been telling us since the late 18th century. He also demolishes the myth that warfare is deeply ingrained in human nature. Ninety-eight percent of people are deeply opposed to killing and warfare and require extensive brainwashing to commit to either. Although the species homo sapiens is 60,000 – 1000,000 years old, they have only engaged in war for the last 10,000 years. Many human civilizations (including the people of the Arctic, Northeast Mexico, Australia and Nevada’s Great Basin) had no experience of war prior to contact with Europeans. Among the more astonishing facts Swanson reveals is that 80% of the US troops drafted into World War II declined to kill enemy troops.

Starting with the Revolutionary War, War is a Lie is full of delightful little factoids that are omitted from high school and college US history courses.

Among the high points:

Revolutionary War

The two real goals of the US War of Independence were to 1) remove the King’s representatives from positions of power in North America and replace them with colonial merchants and bankers and 2) to overturn the British ban on western expansion (via the slaughter of indigenous tribes). The Continental Army consisted mainly of poor farmers who were forcibly conscripted, brutally mistreated and rarely paid (even though General Washington was the richest man in the colonies. During and after the war, numerous “democratic reforms” were enacted to motivate these the “recruits, with all being promptly nullified.

War of 1812

Contrary to what we’re taught in school, the US started the War of 1812, with the intention of invading and occupying Canada. They lost this war.

Mexican-American War (1846-48)

Another war about western expansion that resulted in the US annexation of Texas, California, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and parts of Colorado and Oregon. Many Irish and other European immigrants fought for Mexico.

Civil War

Swanson maintains the Civil War was also about western expansion and whether the North or South would control the new western territories. Swanson stresses that Lincoln could have easily freed the slaves without launching a war (other countries did so). The Emancipation Proclamation was issued well after the war started, as public sentiment turned against the war due to high casualties. Swanson reminds us that the Proclamation only applied to states that had seceded – slavery remained legal in Union states.

World War II

Swanson details the deliberate Wall Street strategy of arming Hitler to neutralize the Soviets, highlighting orders US pilots received not to bomb German munitions factories owned by Americans. He also writes at length about the Nazi eugenics experiments that originating in the US under the guidance of Rockefeller, Carnegie and Harrison. I was intrigued to learne the Rockefeller Foundation funded Josef Mengele’s experiments on Jewish prisoners. Swanson attributes Roosevelt’s eagerness to enter World War II to increasing working class militancy in the US (which the compulsory draft ended) and fears of full blown insurrection. He also discusses numerous efforts Hitler made (as late as 1940) to negotiate a peace settlement with the allies – which they rebuffed.