Monday, 23 May 2011

On Huey Long part 1: State politics

Just thought I'd do a quick blog on someone who is fast becoming one of my favourite historical figures, Mr Huey Pierce Long, and before anyone makes that joke, no he is not a porn star, although if he had dropped his first name he would have had an awesome name for one. Also sorry if this gets a bit gushy.

Huey Pierce Long August 30, 1893 – September 10, 1935, certainly provides an interesting example of the radical economic and political renaissance that made the 1930s such a beautiful and horrifying time in world history. Originally a lawyer with a habit of taking on cases against big business, often proudly stating that he "never took a case against a poor man", Huey first entered politics by being elected to the public service commission, where he continued his attacks on big business. Huey unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1924, losing he said due to rain making the dirt roads that his primarily rural voter base had to use to get to the booth unusable. Don't worry I will get to the point soon, bare with me.

After his eventual election in 1928 Huey quickly began firing his political opponents from any office he could and replaced them with his supporters, bullied state senators and effectively became the Dictator of Louisiana, even after he stopped being Governor. But the thing is, it worked. Due to him having absolute power he managed to abolish a poll tax that prevented the poor from voting, started night schooling programs that taught over 100,000 formerly illiterate adults to read, broke the political monopoly that big companies, especially oil interests, had, provided free school textbooks for children at a time when many parents couldn't afford to buy them and gave the state one of the most modern road networks in America. He also established scholarships for less well off students and some credit his strong regulation of the banking sector as the only reason the majority of Louisiana's banks stayed solvent. He also moved many of the mentally ill out of prisons and into newly funded institutions, increased funding for health care and provided free immunisation to 70% of the population.

While he later went into national politics and intended to run for president before his assassination, this blog shall focus on Huey's impact on his home state.

The problem with looking at Long with modern eyes is that we tend towards frowning upon firing people who don't agree with you and bullying elected representatives, and rightly so, but can we really say it was wrong in this instance? If not for his willingness to break the rules he would never have got anything done, but at the same time we have rules for a reason. But I feel that we socialists can probably cut him some slack based on the following points.
1. Before Huey, the state was de facto ran by big business and the wealthy, with the poor living in very bad conditions and many of them unable to even read which prevented upwards mobility. This was not a state of affairs that could morally be allowed to continue.
2. The poll tax prevented the poor from overturning this state of affairs through legal means. Hence Louisiana can be said to have been in a state of Plutocracy, rather than Democracy. This latter point is especially relevant due to the idea held by many on the left that when there is no legal means for the people to remove a government and a system that keeps them in the dirt, they must turn to other means.
3. Huey was basically better than a revolutionary if you think about it. While many revolutionaries have to start wars and kill people in order to get control and then when they do they turn out to be not much better than the oppressors they just overthrew, Huey took control without killing anyone and then once he dealt with the problems of his state with an efficiency that Hitler and Mussolini could only dream of.

So in conclusion I shall end this first part of my look at Huey Long, which by the way may not have a part 2 for a while as I'm probably going to blog about something else after this although the next one about him will be an analysis of his Presidential plans, by stating that despite his dictatorial tendencies, Huey Long was a man who knew what was wrong and knew how to fix it and never let the law get in the way of justice and so I say he is a historical figure worthy of admiration by socialists. Plus he exchanged death threats with a KKK leader, which is freaking bad ass.

Sometimes you have to ignore the rules. I'm not in this business to protect the rules, I serve justice. - Batman

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