Friday, December 26, 2008

The First Failure of Socialism in America Circa 1609

"The early Jamestown settlers were brought over by the company* and given 'planter shares,' with profits to be divided five years later. Meanwhile, they were to live at the company's expense and work wholly for the company. In effect, the colony originally operated as a collective unit, in which both production methods and consumption were shared. But collectivity encouraged individuals to work less and resulted in much discontent. Unmarried men complained of working without recompense for other men's wives and children. Stronger, more able workers were embittered when they did not receive larger amounts of food and supplies than others who could or would not work as hard. In addition, common ownership stifled incentives to care for and improve lands and to make innovations in production.

"In addition, absentee direction from Engalnd created problems, because successful production required local managerial direction. Futile insistent demands from England for quick profits sidetracked productive efforts and added to the settlers' discouragement.

"Jamestown residents gained greater control over local matters in 1609 when small garden plots of land were given to individuals and again in 1612 when various institutional reforms were undertaken. To generate more flexible leadership and local autonomy in that hostile environment, a deputy governor was stationed in Vriginia. Steadily thereafter, centralized direction from England became less and less frequent.

"As private landholdings replaced common ownership** work incentives improved; the full return for individual effort became a reality, superseding output-sharing arrangments. In 1614 private landholdings of 3 acres were allowed. A second and more significant step toward private property came in 1618 with the establishment of the headright system. Under this system any settler who paid his own way to Virginia was given 50 acres and another 50 acres for anyone else whose transportation he paid. In 1623, only 16 years after the first Jamestown settlers had arrived--all landholdings were converted to private ownership."

---Gary M. Walton and Hugh Rockoff, History of the American Economy, Tenth Edition. South-Western, Cengage Learning, 2005, p. 33.

Part of the mythology of the left-wing ideologues who dominate the American academy and the education system is that "progressivism" involves the instutition of socialism or communism and equity as well as increased rationality or "planning" from a distant center. Rather, socialism or communism was medieval. The common field and collectivized output resulted in low living standards throughout the feudal period and gradually ended with the enclosures in England from the 13th to 17th centuries. The enclosures are usually depicted in high school as harmful because they dispossessed peasants from the common fields. But the enclosures vastly increased agricultural productivity, rapidly expanding the availability of food and resulting in a 50% increase in life expectancy in England by the 17th century. While this evolution away from backward medieval communism to the more modern and flexible system of private ownership and capitalism was culminating, the settlement of Virginia began.

The claim that socialism or communism are progressive rather than reactionary is duplicitous and ideologically motivated. The country with the most backward feudalism, Russia, was the chief European country to adopt communism only decades after it abolished serfdom. The Russians managed to replace medieval serfdom with a twentieth century replica garbed in the duplicitous claim that it was "progressive".

The adoption of communism in America preceded the adoption of private property and capitalism. Americans rejected communism because their lives depended on productivity. The hostile, unsettled terrain caused 6,000 of the first 8,000 settlers in Virginia to die, on average within two years of landing. Higher productivity meant survival. Hence, capitalism in America was forged on the basis of a desperate need to enhance productivity.

*The London Company, founded at the same time as the New Plymouth Company and Massachusetts Bay Company>

**Common ownership is another term for communism. Common fields or communism were common in England prior to the enclosures and existed throughout Europe. They were closely associated with the communism of the Russian mir, which ended only four decades before the re-establishment of communism under the reactionary(medievalist) Marxist ideology.

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