Oklahoma Socialism



well it comes as something of a surprise for most Oklahomans that the state with a history of the strongest socialist movement was not on either coast but in rural Oklahoma it was here in the first two decades of the 20th century a unique movement emerged that successfully elected socialists to a myriad of state in local offices and for a brief and singular moment in our state's history political leaders in Oklahoma confronted the prospect of sharing power with the Socialist Party with its stone facade in downtown Oklahoma City American farmers and ranchers looks like a pillar of capitalism yes but inside this insurance company you find quite a different story Paul Jackson is the company's historian we have a lot of the objects here that have occurred over the hundred years of our history started before statehood this company was first a political movement that began in an effort to help early Oklahoma farmers is it fair to say that these hardscrabble farmers probably didn't feel very much in control of their lives absolutely they did not feel control of their lives very difficult times droughts low crop prices monopolistic practices all those things contributed to a very dismal outlook for producers so beginning in Texas and then spreading into Oklahoma farmers began to band together to establish a Farmers Union a movement that began to grow across the nation people in the south and farmers and tennis were charged higher interest rates than everyone else and so they were just really being hit from all angles not only from the from the private sector if you will by charging all these these really huge prices but also they were hit by drought and couldn't couldn't produce the crop so so it was kind of a little bit of everything and then they wanted to be in control of their commodities that they produce they wanted to be able to sell them at a higher price and so that's when the whole co-operative movement began to form you begin to see it just a really a rapid increase of membership almost like a prairie fire and the organized labor movement that swept across the industrialized these begin to move westward Oklahoma History Center's Bob Blackburn well out here in the West we have a similar reaction but here it's agrarian based so many things can go wrong with agriculture and as the cost of planting and producing and marketing your crops goes up because of mechanization are the cost of transportation by rail the fact that the markets for the agricultural products are a long way off which means it's going to cost a lot of money to get it there well it's squeezing small farmers by the turn of the century and as the small farmers are losing their land and being squeezed and their quality of life is going down they react politically when they start electing officials who will do what they say they need they want protection from bankers they want prediction from the railroads they want to bring control back to the local community and they want to take the big land holders and break up the land and make sure it's available to these families on top of that they want to do some what they consider the Christian thing let's work together let's follow the the teachings of Jesus and let's let's do what's good for everybody let's be good neighbors let's share let's not exploit let's not make winners and losers out of the system which is the basis of the free enterprise system let's take that out of the scenario of our economy and let's base it on this Christian concept of cooperation socialism and by the time of statehood socialism became a major force in Oklahoma politics well it certainly sounds like there was a fair amount of idealism going on what happened from there we'll the idealism turned into real action in Oklahoma probably one of the top three states in the entire Union here we're there 46 state and we're one of the top three and turning socialist policy into action because the Constitutional Convention in 1916 1917 just as the socialist movement was really gaining some traction this very conservative Christian based populism you see it in the eight-hour work day at the Constitutional Convention prohibition of child labor creating a department of charities and Corrections they help people you get a very strong Corporation Commission to limit the the power of big business a very anti corporate atmosphere within the state you have an Oklahoma Bank guarantee law protecting small depositors and banks from bankers who will come in and take depositors and go bankrupt and then leave town and so you have these guarantee loss you see very much this agrarian conservative populism showing up in our form of government so today our government looks very different than this what happened well what happened is that the actions peaked in nineteen fourteen in nineteen fourteen twenty percent of the statewide vote went for a socialist candidate for governor there are 175 local government positions filled by members of the Socialist Party they are promoting suffrage for women they are fighting the Jim Crow laws that are trying to disenfranchise African Americans in the state they are proposing that we stay out of World War one because they see that as this fight of these imperialists pro-business interests trying to control the world and so they say stay out of the war will we eventually enter the war in 1917 and there's a backlash of patriotism the counsels of the defense which ultimately led to the American socialism party's demise as America entered into World War one in 1917 those that opposed it were trampled by the rush to arms these vigilante groups go out and anybody they deem not patriotic enough they might quip they might drive out of town in a couple of cases they Lynch people and while the Socialists he died in Oklahoma many of their ideals did not people who would have supported the the Socialists become more agrarian Democrats during the 1930s alfalfa Bill Murray who would have been an agrarian populist a an idealist who wanted to go back to the ways of Thomas Jefferson becomes governor and he is leading the state back towards let's support small farmers let's limit government let's keep the federal government out of state he opposes the New Deal he says let's not bring the New Deal because we don't want those guys in Washington DC telling us how to live our lives out here on these farms progressive groups like the Farmers Union began to diversify their focus in membership continued to grow the 20s and 30s began became involved in in all kinds of initiatives starting rural electrification soil conservation programs the very first soil survey project was done within 40 miles of Tishomingo Oklahoma as a result of the Farmers Union asking for that and just like most things political the more things change the more they stay the same if you look today how much similarities there might be between the Tea Party movement and the populist movement sometimes history it's is look you look back over a hundred and something years it's amazing how players switched positions on issues and and so I think you know you might think that a populist is very far from a tea party person but many respects they're there they might be very closely aligned today even today you see parts of this this belief we are still a state built on this agrarian conservative rural populism you see it in the Tea Party today a fear of centralized government a fear a big business an attempt to get control back to the local level you see a very strong Christian theme running through it and so alfalfa Bill Murray would have been very popular among the Tea Party of modern Dale Homa and just as that's changed its form over the last 100 years it will continue to change but it's my belief that agrarian conservative populism is a part of Oklahoma's DNA and will be part of that forever so why was the sooner state of all places more hospitable to Marxian socialism than any other state in America well economic reasons are an indisputable factor but the movement was also rooted in the state's strong traditions of the American Revolution and in Christianity and while today socialism is often used in the same context by some as being an American early Oklahomans felt much differently and their beliefs still resonate today in everything from the cooperative's that now dot our state to the laws that govern us in our constitution




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