I’m writing a book now about coal mining in western Pennsylvania between about 1890 and 1940 and among the many remarkable things I have found in my searching is the nascent socialism of coal miners in Cambria County. So when President Trump rolled out the red flag in his state of the union address, I took notice.
The thought that anyone would opt for a fully socialist government in modern America is so ridiculous it begs to be abandoned as a theme, but I don’t want to do that because we’re going to be hearing endless lectures from the President as he searches for some pie that will stick to the wall for his 2020 campaign.
Things are going very well these days, which is one strong reason we can slap the “bullshit” label on the socialist threat in these times (not that its actually a threat. It works well in some places but probably not well here).
I think the most likely time for socialism to develop in the United States was in the late 19th century, when no one had much of anything in the way of a social security net to prop them up when the economy went slipping off the table, as it frequently did in that era.
It was hard to argue about the beauties of democracy when your family was one lockout away from starving, or when anyone from Andrew Carnegie to guys a lot less noble thought nothing of pillaging entire industries to fatten their empires.
Coal was like that, particularly in the Appalachian fields in western Pennsylvania. There were some places that were safely unionized for the most part and some places where unions could not get a foothold. Everywhere it was a continuing struggle to make ends meet in a business where you might just die without much notice. Coal digging was that dangerous.
It radicalized some of the miners and led them to form strong alliances with a whole array of socialist-type organizations in New York City, which was aggressive in its support for organization among the poor miners of Pennsylvania.
That it didn’t happen was a function of a couple of things. The government would have none of it, that was first. The workers in the field could never build up enough strength to counter the Coal and Iron Police, the Pinkertons and a host of other vile interlopers.
And finally, the coal business just burned itself out by the late 1960s or so. There was not much left to organize.
The great flaw in of Trump’s concern (and i don’t believe for a minute it is real. This is just a huckster’s way of trying to get a buzzword going to motivate his base) is that the people most likely to be targeted by any new socialist movement would be his most ardent supporters, poor white folks in the rural south.
Socialism would have absolutely no traction there.
So I think this is enough to say about this on my part, although you are likely to hear lots and lots more from the Washington media, the inside the beltway types who never get out to feel the pulse or check the blood of average Americans.
They are not going to be singing “Solidarity Forever” soon.