Organizing For Democracy


Democracy is today facing a challenge as to its continuance. This challenge must be met – met by all who believe fundamentally in the processes and love the freedom and the responsibilities of democracy. In the world today it has become dangerous to take democracy for granted. It is time for all of us to evaluate our relationships to democratic operations and to clarify our thinking as to our responsibilities. Unless our daily lives proceed on a
democratic basis we shall not long have democracy in government.

Freedom of Thought

A people cannot long have freedom of thought and action in any field unless they have economic freedom. During the past 150 years in this country we have had a continuing process of exploitation of the weaker by the stronger, but our vast undeveloped resources gave opportunity to the exploited for reestablishment of economic position by a new start. We now find the economic strength of the people being permanently concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. Until the World war we were a debtor nation. This gave us a very large foreign market. We could pay our debts, both interest and principal, in goods and services. European nations could use the products of our farms and fields. The World war changed us from a debtor nation to a creditor nation. Our frontiers of raw land have long since vanished; our foreign markets have all but vanished.

We are face to face with the ultimate disastrous consequences of exploitation. The individual has no means of recovery when he is stripped by profit-taking and gigantic concentration of wealth. A more mature stage has been reached. Individual economic security and freedom are more and more difficult to obtain. Tenantry among farmers is the rule, not the exception – free land is gone. Millions of unemployed walk our streets and highways. Our large foreign markets have disappeared. We still have political democracy, but we find ourselves with a vast voting population which is confused – disillusioned – discouraged.

Our so-called “Universal Education” has not educated in the true sense. It has been geared to an economic system of exploitation which constantly reduces the economic freedom of the individual. It is but natural under such conditions that we find political democracy called upon to restore our economic democracy and independence.

We are overrun with all sorts of cure-alls – get-well- quick schemes. So-called leaders are shouting from housetops that if we only adopt this or that scheme if we only pass the law they propose, everything will be cured. “Political Ins” would solve all the problems by staying in, “Political Outs” by getting in.

The Soil in Which Dictatorships Grow

Confusion exists among the masses because new and great economic stress besets them and because democratic processes in the economic field have ceased functioning. Political propaganda – flowery promises – publicity tricks – promises of a fuller life – panaceas – soon cause people to feel that political democracy is decrepit, out of date and tiresome. When the means of livelihood is beyond control for the average man and he suffers from an
economic pinch, the time comes finally when he begins to pray that some strong man of power will rise and lead him out of the wilderness. This is the soil out of which dictatorships grow. If we are to continue as a political democracy in this country we must reestablish total democratic processes – we must organize to put democratic process in action. This is the task of Farmers Union in the area which it has membership strength. It is to this I would dedicate it.

Group Discussion Sane

The democratic process can be defined as one of education and application – of understanding and action. This requires that people participate on a wide front in discussing their social and economic problems and in reaching decisions regarding economic and political procedures necessary to solve these problems. Understanding comes as a natural result of the consideration of many viewpoints and of the facts brought out during discussion. Group discussion is generally sane. The possibility of arousing emotional fervor and blind support for some superficial proposal – some panacea, is practically eliminated if the democratic process is followed because conditions encouraging mass hysteria and the mob mind which are present in large mass meetings or in mass presentation with relatively uniformed people are lacking in small discussion meetings.

Catch phrases, glittering generalities and wild promises do not stand the acid test of cross examination and thorough going discussion where facts are brought to light and decisions made only after a thorough examination of facts. Mob psychology and mass hysteria do not function in a small group because everyone present feels free to express his own opinions and make up his own mind.

I doubt if Hitler could have defended successfully before a discussion group of ten or twelve people last September what he announced with finality to a nerve-strained world. Democracy is a voluntary relationship based upon understandings arrived at through study and discussion. It cannot goose-step.

Local Action

The democratic process creates an action program. Group discussions create a keen interest in getting things done. Local problems are solved by local people when their interest and initiative are developed. Local action is fundamental to the establishment and maintenance of a truly democratic society. People are encouraged to analyze their problems and apply their solutions. Such action is the best possible insurance against the grotesque contempt of humanity practiced by dictators. Education and application – study and action – in these are the strength and safety of people.


Political and economic leaders rejected every proposal for farm aid until agriculture was bankrupt and our entire economic structure was tottering and then because of emergency conditions developed a “Top Down” agricultural program. Having ignored a vital problem for 10 years we attempted to secure in a few months what democratic processes would have developed soundly during the 10 years. We must now democratize that program and its administration. To get to the suggestions of local people up through the necessary channels to those administering a federal program is an exceedingly difficult task. It is still more difficult to get these suggestions incorporated into standardized administrative procedures. But it must be done. If farmers are to have a voice in their own affairs for long they must become active in local communities – in counties and through their duly elected representatives state and nationally.

To wait until ever-increasing economic pressure creates mob thinking and mass action will be fatal to democracy.

Study and intelligent action are needed now. Farmers – all farmers – whether they be Democrats, Republicans, Socialists or what have you, should meet in small groups – groups of ten or twelve or twenty to discuss their problems and needs. They should plan local, regional and national cooperatives. If they do this they will have the opportunity to test and analyze our economic processes and to examine the catchphrases and fancy promises of those who propose to solve all of our ills bypassing this or that law sponsored by Senator Whoosit and Congressman Whatsit.

What Must Be Done

As these small discussion groups examine their immediate communities they will begin to see – if their discussion is free and open that they will not solve all of their problems bypassing state and national legislation. Their discussions inevitably will lead them to see, I believe, that they must not only educate themselves and their neighbors, but they must have economic power controlled by democratic processes, and that they can gain this only by setting up their own cooperative business institutions – the only means in our present society for restoring economic freedom. They will see further that they must have and belong to their own farm organization to protect themselves against the attacks of those who would exploit them economically and politically.

Today’s challenge to democracy is also a direct challenge to our formal education system as well as the informal educational mechanism of our farm organizations and labor groups. The restoration to widespread use of the democratic process in America will not be easy to achieve. We are seriously in need of some fundamental changes in the educational approach, technique and emphasis.

We are failing to equip our youth with a clear knowledge of economic and political realities. In far too many instances in rural high schools and I suspect in city high schools we find the coach or some other teacher whose major interest is not economics and social studies engaged in teaching history, economics, civics and social studies, presumably on the assumption that these are easy courses to teach or that they are not important subjects. Is it any wonder that our economic and social thinking is of the horse and buggy variety while technical production knowledge is streamlined?

Ought not our rural school teachers, who are employed by farmer school boards, be required to assist the members of the community in organizing small discussion groups – groups where emotional appeal and mob enthusiasm is nil, where even the humblest farmer will express himself – a group where leadership and self-expression develop rapidly. If all over rural America small discussion groups coming realistically to grips with their problems were functioning, more farm people in the low income groups would be brought into a working understanding of the economic problem facing them. Federal farm programs may temporarily improve farm purchasing power, and this is important. But for permanence we must undergird such improvement with understanding and action by the great mass of farmers.

Program of Action Necessary

We sincerely hope that organized labor will more and more join us in actively studying the economic and social problems which are common to farmers and laborers, and with establishing cooperative mechanisms for our common good, because if the democratic processes are to be completely effective a program of action is a necessary result of discussion and planning. Although legislative action is necessary we believe that economic action is more effective and certainly more lasting in results. The cooperative movement offers a two fold mode of attack on economic and social problems. First, it is in its very nature and operation a democratic
process – it is education for democracy by action and experience. Second: the Cooperative Movement offers opportunity to mass economic power by group action. Cooperative groups transfer patronage from others to themselves and in so doing increase their economic status. It is the sound way to cure monopolies – discontinue feeding them.

A Dangerous Influence

We hear a great deal about monopoly investigations and legislative
proposals to regulate monopolies. This has never succeeded. The big corporations merely change legal forms or change legal methods and continue right on growing stronger and stronger. A few of the large corporations, particularly insurance companies, have reached such a gigantic size that everyone recognizes the decisive and dangerous influence on economic conditions which they wield.

Years ago when we started many of our marketing cooperatives, finance capitalism had not reached full bloom. We started Cooperative marketing agencies because it was so plainly evident that we were being exploited in the sale of our products. Those institutions have served and are serving us well, doing a wonderful job. They help increase farm income and we certainly need increased income. We saw where we were being exploited by those who sold us our farm supplies and we through purchasing cooperatives we have done a good job reducing tolls there. The money we pay for insurance premiums – for personal loans and mortgages goes to furnish capital to fight the very cooperative capital we have created. We find insurance premiums in the form of reserves, surplus and profits, drifting into all sorts of businesses, which are monopolistically controlled and many of these businesses operate competitively against our cooperative institutions.

A Tough Time

If finance capitalism decided to wipe out our cooperatives, using the very money we are giving to capitalist daily, we would have a very tough time weathering the storm. Even though our cooperatives have saved us millions of dollars and have laid the groundwork for a new kind of life; we are not secure in them until we control adequate finances. Federal lending agencies are helpful but if the federal government were to be placed in the hands of those unfriendly to cooperatives many of our institutions would be seriously injured or wiped out. When the real test of our democracy comes – as it will come – the showdown will be on the economic front of financial capital. We must achieve economic self-sufficiency as early as we can.

The Financial Gulf

If you go up to the headwaters of the Missouri River you will find that you can step across the Gallatin River at the spot where it originates – then you come down to Three Forks, Montana, and you find three rivers running into one to create the Missouri – finally the Missouri runs into the Mississippi and the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico. That is the way our financial Gulf of Wall Street is created. Little streams of wealth from every community, then a bigger river, then a gigantic stream, then the Gulf of Wall Street. We must build more dams in the financial stream – more local cooperatives and regional wholesales, more marketing and processing cooperatives, more credit unions, more and stronger insurance cooperatives. We cannot have centralized and monopolistic wealth and diffused and democratic political controls. We shall restore economic democracy or lose political democracy. And we must move quickly

The Way Is Open

The exploitation of the mass population of this country, as in every other country where monopolies concentrate wealth and control natural resources, leads to one of three things: [1] Corporate dictatorship, [2] Communism or [3] a cessation of the concentration of wealth. We believe that the third would be America’s choice. The way is open. It is a peaceable way. It is a proven way. We can readily stop this steady flow of wealth to points of concentration. We need only to set up our own cooperatives, which we as patrons own, control and operate. We believe the only way to stop the growth of monopolies is to quit feeding them. The change to economic democracy will thus be evolutionary. And unless we can restore a substantial measure of economic control and security to the average man we shall not retain our political democracy.

The National Union Farmer, Volume 18, No. 3,
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, March 7, 1939