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What Was The Original American Populism?

We often time see debates on who in American politics is the real populist some say Donald Trump and the conservatives’ others will say Bernie Sanders and his social democrats and there will also be those who say Marxism or Fascism are the true and real forms of populism. However, if we look at the original American populists of the 1870s to 1890s that being the People Populist Party, The Farmer Alliance, the Knights of Labor, National Labor Union, and the Greenback party we find there are many similarities with all tendencies but had many stark differences.

What united the People Populist Party all the way to the Greenback party was a strong resistance to monopoly capitalism, Banking cartels and support for cooperatives and preservation of family farms, craftmanship, artisans, shopkeepers, and local communities that where being displaced by the centralization of land and capital by corporations and banking cartels. They were also very localist, religious, had negative attitudes towards immigration and were agrarian in many cases. They were also very key on producers and workers owning the means of production not being controlled by large corporate or government bureaucracies which is the heart of original American Populism.

Like mentioned earlier the original American populism has some similarities with current forms of so-called populism but have many strong differences. For starters if we are to look at the Trump forms of populism, we see it shares its conservative and anti-immigration stances however Trump populism was hardly against corporate capitalism despite many elements of this class despising him. Not to mention Trumpian populism fails to see how corporate capitalism wants cheap foreign labor and how corporate monopolies destroyed small business and traditional social norms that original populist sought to preserve. Sanders shares the some of the anti-capitalist sentiments however if we get down to what social democracy is which is a welfare state which hardly opposes corporate bureaucracy which in many ways strengths it and removes support for more radical opposition to capitalism not to mention its strengths government bureaucracy as well.  Fascism shares its synthesis politics and support for unions however what separates American populism is the localist and anti-centralization sentiments of the populist while fascism is inherently statist. Not to mention the reason the original populist wanted to preserve localism and mass proprietorship/ ownership by forming cooperatives was not only to preserve their way of life and independence but also because mass proprietorship was seen as something necessary for democracy to survive and not have politicians be controlled by large corporate or banking interest while fascism is an inherently anti-democratic movement. Marxism shares many of populism anti-capitalist sentiments however Marxism believed that the small shopkeepers, farms, and others who made up populist were destined to be defeated by larger corporate industrial capitalism and centralize industrial production, the last one even being also a part of a Marxian socialist society both in theory and in practice seeing it as the progress of history. Populist were in complete revolt against this so-called progress of the centralization of productions which they fought against in name of keeping control of the means of production or in case of National Labor Union and Knights of Labor to regain control and to preserve their local communities and democracy.

I believe that it becomes obvious after looking into how the original American populist opposed corporate and government bureaucracy it becomes clear that both the Trump, and Sanders forms of populism are nothing more than shams that are used to rally up people to support one section of ruling class over another instead of abolishing both. While Fascism and Marxism maybe strong opponents of the modern system but would still lead to centralization of power that so many want to move away from. However, I do admit that some industries like media, social media, large scale industries that must be that way have to be under state super vision but can still have some form of worker control weather be through a guild or union like system. I also admit that the agrarian democracy that the original populist wanted to preserve is long gone and there no way of going back too it. However, the populist strong distaste of capitalism, bureaucracy, and their belief in mass proprietorship and synthesis politics is worthy of keeping. The populist also attempts to unite different economic disciplines and races is also noble and needed if a populist movement is to succeed and maintain a populist American society.

With the rise of populism in the last several years and the recent railroad workers union deal which despite its reformism shows that unions and workers still have some power by organizing, it is necessary for real populist and dissidents to make their ideas known and to disprove and comfort those of both democrats and republicans who espouses this pseudo populism. Along with those who espouse welfare reform instead of the producers and workers owning the means of production. If any populist movement is to succeed it cannot just appeal to one group or industry but rather must be far reaching appealing to small businesses, the working class, rural people, churches, students, people from the right and left and of all racial demographics. United against international capitalism and for national liberation of this country from this class. While this is a long stretch it is not impossible take for example the March 8th Alliance in Lebanon which is made up of Muslim, Christian, secular parties and parties from both the right, left and in between who only a few decades ago were fighting a religious/class/ethnic sectarian civil war inside the country many times fighting with and against one another. If they can put aside their differences after trying to kill one another I’m pretty sure we can too.


The True and Only Heaven Progress and Its Critics by Christopher Lasch

Conservatism Against Itself by Christopher Lasch

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx Fredrick Engels

The Doctrine of Fascism by Benito Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile

March 8 Alliance – Wikipedia

A Railroad Strike Has Been Averted for Now. What Happens Next. | Barron’s (


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