Toward a Cooperative Commonwealth

The Transplanted Roots of Farmer-Labor Radicalism in Texas
Author: Thomas Alter II
A German American family and transnational impacts on US radical politics, 1848-1932
Cloth – $125
Paper – $28
eBook – $19.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 04/12/2022
Cloth: 04/12/2022
Buy the Book Request Desk/Examination Copy Request Review Copy Request Rights or Permissions Request Alternate Format
Book Share

About the Book

Agrarian radicalism's challenge to capitalism played a central role in working-class ideology while making third parties and protest movements a potent force in politics. Thomas Alter II follows three generations of German immigrants in Texas to examine the evolution of agrarian radicalism and the American and transnational ideas that influenced it. Otto Meitzen left Prussia for Texas in the wake of the failed 1848 Revolution. His son and grandson took part in decades-long activism with organizations from the Greenback Labor Party and the Grange to the Populist movement and Texas Socialist Party. As Alter tells their stories, he analyzes the southern wing of the era's farmer-labor bloc and the parallel history of African American political struggle in Texas. Alliances with Mexican revolutionaries, Irish militants, and others shaped an international legacy of working-class radicalism that moved US politics to the left. That legacy, in turn, pushed forward economic reform during the Progressive and New Deal eras.

A rare look at the German roots of radicalism in Texas, Toward a Cooperative Commonwealth illuminates the labor movements and populist ideas that changed the nation’s course at a pivotal time in its history.

About the Author

Thomas Alter II is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Texas State University.


"Masterful. . . . Alter’s clear writing and well-argued analysis provides students of the Texas Socialist movement a newly congruent foundation. To repeat, this is the book to read first." --Kyle Wilkinson, Labor Online

"Alter's Toward a Cooperative Commonwealth is a highly readable, extensively researched contribution to our understanding of Southwestern radicalism. Both seasoned scholars and beginning students will benefit." --Western Historical Quarterly

"A fountain of information. . . Alter does an excellent job of showing the persistence of the agrarian radical impulse." --Southwestern Historical Quarterly

"Alter's careful attention to Socialists in Texas provides an excellent case study of the numerous forces that affect political agendas. He convincingly demonstrates that revolutions beyond the borders of the United States directly shaped the course of radical platforms in Texas, and he shows how even these radicals could not fully escape the grasp of white supremacy." --Journal of Southern History

"In this thoroughly researched and clearly written study of radical politics and ideas, historian Thomas Alter II argues that German transplants to rural Texas contributed to building a farmer-labor bloc that significantly shaped American politics from Reconstruction to the 1920s." --Pacific Historical Review

"In Towards a Cooperative Commonwealth, Alter provides a powerful example of how history can converse with the present. . . . His work deftly and naturally provides historical perspective into contemporary issues, clearly demonstrating that a certain degree of presentism within the profession is not only possible but often necessary. . . . Alter's work is an exceptional example of both quality scholarship and the role historians can and should have in the world today." --Journal of Arizona History

"The Meitzens -- and Alter's book -- are too important for scholars of labor and American political radicalism to ignore. Towards a Cooperative Commonwealth should further appeal to a broader audience of scholars of immigration and transnational history, while lay readers will find it a rich and rewarding experience." --Journal of the Gilded Age


"This engaging study moves easily from family history to broad movements for justice. It shows farmer-labor alliances as a persistent, important presence from Silesia to Texas. Alter tells a fascinating story of how solidarity with Mexican revolutionaries challenged white supremacy across borders."--David Roediger, author of The Sinking Middle Class: A Political History

"Alter narrates the rise and fall of an agrarian radical movement in Texas that brought unlikely partners together, albeit temporarily. German origin families such as the Meitzens collaborated with African Americans and Mexican Americans to create a commonwealth based on mutual benefits and centered on land, until reactionary forces in Texas and beyond quashed the movement. Alter's account shows the crucial role of land in the history of class struggle and class alliances."--Sonia Hernández, author of For a Just and Better World: Engendering Anarchism in the Mexican Borderlands, 1900–1938