Friday, 25 May 2007

A Bit Of Un-American History.

I'm reading the autobiography of Johnny Cash at the moment. There's a line in it which drew my attention to a relatively unknown piece of US history; recalling his childhood he says that he 'grew up under socialism'.

Like many farming families, the depression of the 30's tipped Cash's family over the edge from poverty into destitution. At one point his father was reduced to riding the rails 'hobbo' style to pick up casual work.

Under FDR's New Deal, in 1934, the Emergency Relief Administration came up with a program whereby poor farmers could buy 20 acres of uncultivated land, with no deposit and nothing to pay until the first harvest. 46 'colonies' were set up in the Mid-West, to be run on a co-operative basis. The farmers were given a house and a barn (all identical), a mule and a cow. Their crop would go into a farmer's co-operative to secure the best market price, and each family was given a stake in the cotton gin and grocery store, with a share in the profits.

By all accounts the life was unbelievably hard - no electricity, no running water and the land had to be cleared from wilderness by hand before any planting could be done. It wasn't socialism and it certainly wasn't idyllic.

Even so it's pretty amazing that it happened at all, and unthinkable in today's political climate. Hard to credit that some victims of Hurricane Katrina are still in shanty towns and the glorified refugee camps that you'd associate with a developing country not the richest in the world. And Hilary Clinton is denounced as a dangerous 'un-American' socialist.

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