Believe it or not, we tried socialism in this country’s early days – before our revolution and official Founding.
When the Pilgrims landed in 1620, their new society was a communal one. All men produced crops for everyone, and women did chores for each-other. No one produced for themselves – everything was done for the community.
A basic form of socialism, long before Marx ever wrote a word on it.
And how did it turn out? Historian Larry Schweikart reminds us in a new video for Prager University:
The early colonists began their adventure with what they thought was a beautiful idea. They set up a common storehouse of grain from which people were supposed to take what they needed and put back what they could. Lands were also held in common and were worked in common. The settlers owned no land of their own.
Though there was no name for this system, it was an ideal socialist commune. And you can probably guess what happened. It began to fall apart almost immediately. As the colonists learned, when everyone is entitled to everything, no one’s responsible for anything. A colonist who started his workday early or stayed late received the same provision of food as a colonist who showed up late, went home early, or didn’t work at all.
After about two years, the settlement was reduced to eating shoelaces and rats. Half of them died of starvation. Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) took control of the colony and scrapped the socialist model. Each colonist received his own parcel of land. Private property had come to the New World.
“He who won’t work, won’t eat!” Smith told them, citing the Biblical admonition. Well they worked. And they ate. And the colony was saved.
The same story unfolded further north in the Plymouth colony 10 years later. Although this was a Puritan colony with religious goals, its plan was the same as Jamestown’s. And it also failed. As its young governor, William Bradford, noted, by adopting the communal system “We thought we were wiser than God.”
So they quickly abandoned the commune for private ownership. Soon, they had an abundance, which they celebrated with the holiday we now know as “Thanksgiving.” Over the next 150 years, this hard-learned lesson, that men should be responsible for their own economic fate, became conventional wisdom in the colonies.
Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Get the word out and share this post on Facebook and Twitter!