I've been reading W.A. Swanberg's biography of Socialist Norman Thomas, entitled Norman Thomas: The Last Idealist. Swanberg talks about Thomas' relationship with Huey Long, the controversial populist Governor of Louisiana.
what I get out of Swanberg's description is that Thomas thought of Long
as a demagogue, who could start a coup during the uncertain times of
the Great Depression. According to Swanberg, Thomas regarded Long's
Share-Our-Wealth proposal as "pie in the sky to attain power", and
Thomas believed that Long was insincere because Thomas' impression was
that Long did not really believe that capitalism could be saved by a
redistribution of wealth. Thomas may have also seen Long as a political
competitor: Thomas was told that sharecroppers would flock to Long's
Share-Our Wealth plan rather than the Socialist Party if the Socialists
did not get on the ball. Thomas planned to take a tour through
Louisiana "to expose the demagoguery of Long's share-the-wealth plan"
(Thomas, as quoted on page 198), but Long predicted that Thomas wouldn't
get three people to listen to him. As Swanberg notes, Long was right:
Long was assassinated three weeks before Thomas was to begin his tour,
so Thomas cancelled the event.
Huey Long is also mentioned on page
162 of Swanberg's book. When a woman was arrested in New Orleans for
distributing Socialist literature, Thomas called the American Civil
Liberties Union as well as "sent to the New Orleans Times-Picayune a
blistering opinion of law enforcement in that Huey Long realm." Thomas
perhaps saw Huey Long as authoritarian in his governorship of Louisiana.
What was the difference between Long's program and that of Norman Thomas? I can only guess. According to this wikipedia article on Long's Share-Our-Wealth program, which draws from this article, the plan had the following elements:
proposed capping personal fortunes at $50 million and repeated his call
to limit annual income to $1 million and inheritances to $5 million.
(He also suggested reducing the cap on personal fortunes to $10
million–$15 million per individual, if necessary, and later lowered the
cap to $5 million–$8 million in printed materials.) The resulting funds
would be used to guarantee every family a basic household grant of
$5,000 and a minimum annual income of $2,000–3,000, or one-third of the
average family homestead value and income. Long supplemented his plan
with proposals for free college education and vocational training for
all able students, old-age pensions, veterans' benefits, federal
assistance to farmers, public works projects, greater federal regulation
of economic activity, a month's vacation for every worker and limiting
the work week to thirty hours to boost employment."
of Long's Share-Our-Wealth plan appears to overlap with Thomas'
proposals and the 1932 Socialist Party platform, which Swanberg
discusses on page 135: public works projects, "a shorter work week",
"agricultural relief", "old-age pensions", and "higher taxes on
corporations and the wealthy" (Swanberg's words on page 135). I do
notice a few differences, however----and I base this on my limited
knowledge about these two men's programs, so I'm open to correction.
One difference is that Thomas called for "the nationalization of basic
industries" (Swanberg on page 135), but I don't see anything about
nationalization in Long's program; Long probably just wanted to tax the
industries' profits at a higher rate. Another difference is that I don't see anything about a guaranteed annual income in Thomas' program.
Long's debate with Thomas, Long "declared that the lands and flocks of
Abraham in the Bible were capitalistic at God's own inspiration and
complained that under Socialism a man would not even own his garters"
(page 164). But my impression is that Thomas was not entirely against
private property, for he said in 1932 that "There is no
conceivable reason why every American family should not be well fed,
well clothed, well housed, possessing its own radio and automobile"
(Thomas, as quoted on page 135).
This article in The Nation
may shed some light on the difference between Long and Socialists, as
well as the low level respect that Long had for Socialists:
you kindly explain to me, Senator,' I asked him at his Capitol, which
was on the twelfth floor of the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, 'how you
can share wealth without socializing the productive process?' 'Never
explain, my boy, never explain! For explanation is the mother of
sectarianism.' He laughed with enormous joy at his own brilliance. 'But
let's suppose,' he continued, 'just for the sake of argument, that
you're right, that you can't share wealth without socializing its
creation. That's socialism, isn't it? And will you please tell me what
sense there is in running on a Socialist ticket in America today? What's
the use of being right only to be defeated? First you must come into
power—POWER—and then you do things.'"
Long here appears to
oppose socializing production, as well as regards the Socialist ticket
as inept. But was Thomas for socializing all production, since
he supported higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, which seems
to imply that corporations would still exist, under his program?
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