“Now is the time to rebel against the war with Germany, boys. Get together, boys, and don’t go. Rich man’s war. Poor man’s fight. If you don’t go, J.P. Morgan Co. is lost. Speculation is the only cause of war. Rebel now.” – Working Class Union
The year of 1917 is generally known for two things- the beginning of American involvement in World War I, and the Bolshevik Revolution. These two things sparked revolution throughout the world, yet most are unaware that there was an attempt at revolution in the United States.
Amidst war in Europe in 1916, in an isolationist nation staunchly against involvement in European affairs (particularly war), a Democrat by the name of Woodrow Wilson was elected under the campaign slogan of “He kept us out of war,” his popularity curtailing from his non-interventionist position on the war helped propel him to victory. Wilson managed to keep the United States out of World War I until the year of 1917, when the United States intervened on the side of the Entente Powers. The intercession of Wilson in World War I lead to a decline in his support, and a rise in discontent with the American government. With the Bolsheviks gaining control of power in Russia, socialist ideology spread like a wildfire and into the hearts and minds of the world throughout. Consequently, socialists began a push in the United States to organize for a revolution.
The first push for revolution in the United States came from the Socialist Party of America. Although the Socialist Party was not Bolshevik ideologically, motivation to push for action still seemed to be derived from the Russian Revolution. The campaigning of the early Socialist Party of America tended to be focused in the cities, however; in Oklahoma this did not seem to be the case. It is important to note that the majority of the Socialist Party did not advocate revolutionary insurrection.
Farmers in the early 1900’s were often quite poor (and still are), and the years prior to the Green Corn Rebellion were especially tough. Two years prior to the rebellion, more than half of the farms in Oklahoma were worked by tenants, more than 60% of mortgaged farms were foreclosed, and 50% of those farms were under crippling mortgages with disgustingly high interest rates of 20%-200%.
The deteriorating economic and social conditions coupled with the populous’ discontent with the war lead to perfect conditions for a revolution in the United States. The Socialist Party capitalized on this in Oklahoma, in which the above statistics are on. Agitation in Oklahoma was at a high, and in an area already gravitating towards revolutionary politics, the Socialist Party saw this as a great area to spark a revolution. The Socialist Party was not the organizer of the rebellion, however. A radical, stalwartly revolutionary organization known as the Working Class Union began the rebellion. The WCU was not opposed to revolutionary insurrection, and contradictory to the much larger and influential Socialist Party even outwardly advocated the violent overthrow of the United States government.
On August 3, 1917, WCU members collected at the interconnected borders of Pontotoc, Seminole and Hughes County in Oklahoma to begin the rebellion. Over 800 farmers (an estimated 800-1000) revolutionaries marched along the South Canadian River towards Washington D.C. to overthrow the government and end legislation associated with the war and bring an end to American involvement in the war. Clearly, they failed. After reports of insurgent attacks on police and mass arrests, the failed rebellion was very clearly over. With a mere three casualties, the only socialist uprising in American history had been crushed.
Five major errors were made in the rebellion: its absence of a leadership, its absence of a single organization leading it, lack of completely widespread recognition of the proletarian and farmers marginalization from the political system, poor organizing and lack of an actual revolutionary consciousness. These five things determine a revolution’s success.
Little has been written on the rebellion, only a minute portion of which was non-antagonistic. By understanding the shortcomings of the rebellion, mainly its lack in a solid leadership and class consciousness, we can apply its lessons to our own unique conditions and prevent the same errors as before. Revolutionaries must study the Green Corn Rebellion and examine its defects; we must understand that socialism has taken revolutionary forms in the United States, and that it has not always been as passive as it is in its current form. We must struggle for the world the Green Corn rebels fought for. Long live the Green Corn Rebellion!