Review: Deer Hunting With Jesus

Deer Hunting with Jesus

Joe Bageant grew up redneck in Winchester Virginia, escaped to the city, became a “godless commie,” moved back thirty years later, and wrote this book about it.

It’s subtitled “Dispatches from America’s Class War.” He looks at the people that he grew up with, and most are in debt way beyond their means, have serious health problems, and have been grinding away for 30-40 years at a no-future job that pays next to nothing. The redneck class helped put George Bush in the White House, but have gotten screwed to the walls by the Republicans and elites all their lives. So how, Bageant asks, did this happen?

Because the Democratic Party stopped caring about them, that’s why. That left a void the Republican Party promptly filled. Yes Virginia, there was a time the Democratic Party stood for the working class, for minorities and the poor, for unions, but those days are long gone. Bageant thinks the Democrats cluelessly and stupidly stopped trying to appeal to poor whites. Me, I think it was quite deliberate. But the result was the same.

If progressives want to organize among rednecks and hillbillies, first off and most important Bageant says, get a clue about guns. Try to understand that guns have been part of that culture for, oh, 250 years, that accidents are rare because they respect and are careful with guns, and that gun ownership is Constitutionally guaranteed.

Besides –

With Micheal Savage and Ann Coulter openly calling for liberals to be put in concentration camps, with the CIA now licensed to secretly detain American citizens indefinitely, and with the current administration effectively legalizing torture, the proper question to ask an NRA member may be, “What kind of assault rifle do you think I can get for three hundred bucks, and how many rounds of ammo does it take to stop a two-hundred-pound born-again Homeland Security zombie from putting me in a camp?” Which would you prefer, 40 million gun-owning Americans on your side or theirs?

Think about it, progressives.

Much of the book is character sketches of real people. He describes their often grueling lives, endless low-paid work, simmering anger, and uses that to show how badly they are exploited. Mortgage rackets leave them indebted beyond their means with a doublewide that loses half its value the day after the papers are signed. Lack of adequate health insurance means medical bills are often ruinous. Substandard education insures that most are illiterate or close to it. They are the serfs who do crap jobs for the rest of us.

They are also Joe Bageant’s people. His politics are way different, but he understands them, and they are his friends, his cousins, his brother, the people he grew up with. He can explain them to those of us on the outside.

Whatever you think of the leash girl of Abu Ghraib, Lynndie England never had a chance. Abu Ghraib, or maybe something even worse (an RPG up the shorts for instance) was always her destiny.

Money is always the best whip to use on the laboring classes. Thirteen hundred a month, a signing bonus, and free room and board sure beats the hell out of yanking guts through a chicken’s ass.

To get real change in this country will require a mass movement. It’s happened in other countries, it can happen here. The Left would gain many supporters and some serious clues by doing outreach to poor whites, and by listening to what they have to say.


  1. Awesome. The elites in this country would have you believe it’s about ideals, but the real divide (created by them) is urban/rural. The message that will sell to us out here in the sticks is going to have to contain a lot more traditional common-sense conservativism than Marx– but as I’ve posted before, what we all really want has a lot in common so if we can forget the “ism” label maybe we can work together toward it.

    I hear tell there are socialists trading in the stock market, so there’s no reason we can’t have rednecks supporting national health care.

    Indeed, if a Dem got a clue and opposed banning guns, he just might sweep the country. Oh, wait, there is one Dem that’s doing exactly that, who could likely even win the red states of Utah and Idaho: Bill Richardson, arguably the most qualified candidate in either party (not that qualification has ever been a requirement for President). So why is it all we hear about is Hillary & Obama? Could it be that the idea of our first woman or black President is sexier than our first hispanic President? Or could it be that controversy is more important than substance?

  2. I said it but it didn’t get published

    This guy, Joe Bageant, said he became a communist? He must be a member of the CPUSA, and to me they are not very adherent to Marxist philosophy.

    First of all a real Marxist would not have seen the democratic party as a party who has ever cared about people. They are only the other half of the ruling class party and they have always represented ruling class interests, just like the republicans.

    Sure they made concessions when they set up some social safety nets, but they were forced by the people to do so because of mass organizing and actions in the 1930’s and 40’s. They had no choice but to do so at that time, otherwise they would have had a revolution on their hands.But even this social safety net wasn’t set up properely, and it has always been in threat of being eliminated, by both democrats and republicans.

    The democrats try to play the good cop in this game of good cop/ bad cop, just to make it look like the people have a choice, and so the people get a few crumbs thrown at them every now and then.

    And anyway a real Marxist would never advocate for gun control, that is not one of their issues. This is the issue put forth by liberals, and liberals are not Marxists.

    Liberals think that they can reform the system out of this mess which keeps getting worse and worse.

    Marxists do not know if an armed struggle in this country would work, since, most people have been divided and confused politically, but they do understand that people organized in struggle can push forward in other ways for the moment.

    Armed struggle may be the last resort, and the first shots are always fired by the ruling class.

    The ruling class has been firing economic shots at us for a long time now, and it’s only a matter of time before they start using real amunition, so we must be organized to prevent this from happening, and ready for it, if it does happen.

    Wako Texas and Ruby Ridge have only been practice runs for them. With all this new legislation, aimed at rounding up protesters, and others, they are getting ready for the real thing and so we must be as well.

    Not just with weapons, because they can defeat us very easily that way, but also with other forms of organization and resistance.

    I think the study of Marxist philosophy can be helpful in understanding what is happening to us, and why. And the need for struggle to change society.

    But Marx never really discussed what a society should look like after the over throw of capitalism. He only said that the power in society should be in the hands of the working class, and stuctured democratically to serve the needs of the people.

    He did mention that the Paris commune was a good beginning model to this, and that is why we must be organized for that challange when that happens.

    Below are links to a program which I recommend for all who are unfamiliar with the Communist Manifesto and even for those who are. Most Americans don’t understand what it is, because they have, never read it, just because they believe it must be some kind of evil doctrine since it has the word communist in it.

    “The Communist Manifesto,” written by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, has been rediscovered in recent years by Wall Street Bankers and radical activists alike. Phil Gasper talks about whether the Manifesto is still relevant today, in a full-length interview with host Sasha Lilley.”

    Play Version

    Download Version

    Below are links for another recommended program.

    “Doug Dowd is a radical economist, prolific author, and dedicated community teacher. His book “The Broken Promises of America: An Encyclopedia for Our Times” constitutes, like all his work, a direct challenge to capitalism. ”

    Play Version

    Download version

    Also below are links to the Marxist Archive, as well as some other marxist thinkers.

    Marxist Internet Archive

    Dialectical Marxism: The Writings of Bertell Ollman

  3. Whether Bageant is revolutionary communist is beside the point. The issues he raises are real.

    IMO, it would be foolish to begin organizing among rednecks by handing them a copy of the Communist Manifesto.

    Start with issues close to them. Mortgages, health care, exploitative work conditions. Then move on to other issues. Some will get radicalized, others won’t, so what. They’ll still be working towards getting their lives better. And more sympathetic towards you next time.

    There’s no hard left organizing that I can see in the US towards rural whites. And there needs to be. They could be class allies, but mostly aren’t now.

    The Paris Commune was a good example of what could be and also of what not to do once you’ve seized power, as they didn’t attack the retreating army, who then regrouped, returned, and butchered them.

  4. I didn’t say that one should hand anyone anything… that would be pointless if the people are not ready for it…

    And those who are ready to read this stuff will find a way to get this kind of literature on their own, as long as they know it exists, and is readily available somewhere.

    It’s just that many attempt to talk about Marx or socialism, and/or communism without really knowing what they are talking about.

    I agree there has to be connection made with other working people by people in the socialist movements, and I think that much organizing needs to take place in rural as well as urban areas by using issues that are close to peoples struggles, in which we are all working together for a better life, and I by the way, consider myself part of the working class.

    Just because I went to college does not mean that I am still not struggling to earn a living, and pay off my debts. Just like many others…

    I just don’t think that people should be led down a dead end by rellying on one of the ruling class parties (democrats or repulicans) as a salvation to their problems.

    The working class needs to build a party of their own, which would represent their interests.


    I don’t believe that any bourgeois democratic political system can allow for the real changes which are needed to really meet the needs of the people

    But building a party which represents the needs of the working class is a step towards building a movement which would overturn the barbaric capitalist system of exploitation, deprivation, human demoralization, and environmental devastation…

    Yes I agree those in the Paris commune should have been ready to defend themselve, but as even Marx awknowledged it was not large enough to be able to survive, since it was only one city…

    But those of us in struggle must always learn from past mistakes…

  5. One of the hardest things is getting people here in the States to realize that class really does exist. Once they get it, the rest comes easier.

    People from Europe, Great Britain, and Latin America don’t need this explained, they already know. Nor do they need an explanation of what socialism is.

    So, as always, just keep organizing.

  6. OK, here I go… While I have found Marxist analysis a useful tool in explaining international relationships, I don’t believe simplifying the complexities of economic relationships into class is a useful method of describing or solving the ills of society– neither in the U.S. nor in the Asian countries in which I have worked. Does class exist? Yes. Is it the primary conflict within society? No. And simplifying to such an extent masks the real problem.

    What is the real probelm, you may ask? It’s the “grab everything for myself” mentality that permeates society from top to bottom. Gandhi recognized this. He introduced the concept of “awakening of all.” That term, Sarvodaya in Sanskrit, was taken to new levels by the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka, the name of which means “toward the awakening of all through the gift of labor.” The founder of that organization took a group of student volunteers to a village of untouchables in 1958 with an interesting goal: not to help the untouchables become as he was, but to become awakened by them. Similarly, Thai Catholic Fr. Niphot Thienvihan takes his novices to the poorest villages not to convert the villagers, but to be converted by them.

    When Bob speaks of going to the rural whites and just talking to them about the issues that are important to them, I think he is closer to the answer than Marx ever got. When Fenian speaks of founding a new political party to represent the working class, he makes the same mistake Marx did: party politics is part of the problem; those who want to lead are those hungry for power.

    Whether capitalism or socialism, whether republican, democrat, communist, fascist, or independent, we can have no solution as long as human greed remains the dominant characteristic that describes human relationships. And party affiliation or economic discipline cannot change that. If I have failed to say it before, let me say it now: the only change that can begin to make a dent in the problems we face in our society is a change in consciousness, most probably as the result of a spiritual path, as Sarvodaya has proposed. With such a change, even rapacious capitalism can be returned to what it was intended to be: people doing business for the good of the whole. (Smith would be appalled to find his concept of “self-interest” equated to selfishness in our modern thinking.) Without such a change, even the most compassionate socialism will be dogged by corruption and abuse.

    Bob, I think you’re on the right track: go to the people and ask THEM what the solution is. But don’t show up carrying a copy of Marx. You’ll be talking to some of the very people who went to Vietnam and Korea to fight communism because someone told them it was bad.

    (Stop me before I rant again!)

  7. > When Bob speaks of going to the rural whites and just talking to them about the issues that are important to them, I think he is closer to the answer than Marx ever got.

    Marx would have understood that completely. He didn’t just write, he was an organizer too. Start with the issues that concern the people, then build towards the bigger ones (and towards connecting the dots.)

    All that an ‘outside agitator’ can do is provide the initial impetus and guidance, then hopefully the organization gets traction, and those involved end up running it.

    If the economic system is geared towards providing for all, there will be less actual greed because the system will prevent much of it from happening.

    The problem with waiting for a change in consciousness is that no one knows how long it will take to happen, and in the meantime, the problems and exploitation continue.

  8. Bob: “All that an ‘outside agitator’ can do is provide the initial impetus and guidance, then hopefully the organization gets traction, and those involved end up running it.”

    DJ: The fundamental question here is, is the agitator willing to allow the organization to come up with its own solution, or does the agitator have a preconceived notion of what that solution should be? Suppose, for example, following the agitator mobilizong the organization, the result looks more like Christian Capitlaism– can the agitator accept that answer?

    Bob: “If the economic system is geared towards providing for all, there will be less actual greed because the system will prevent much of it from happening.”

    DJ: If only that were true. Any system that “prevents” abuse from happening does so with structure, and structure is built on people, and people (especially those in power) are prone to abuse. Both Mao and Lenin understood that a change in consciousness was necessary– they just had no idea how to effectively produce it.

    It CAN be reliably produced on a limited scale. The science was first invented here in America by evangelicals in the 18th century. Though often misused over the years (including by certain nasty political types), in recent years it has been implemented toward (what I would call) holistic goals most often by liberation Catholics and engaged Buddhists.

    Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka has worked to produce this consciousness shift on a mass scale. It is a difficult task and, not surprisingly, those in power resist. It has not yet been sccessful. But when in a country of 18 million, 600,000 gather to meditate for peace, that’s not a bad showing.

    Bob: “The problem with waiting for a change in consciousness is that no one knows how long it will take to happen, and in the meantime, the problems and exploitation continue.”

    DJ: Looks to me like the same is true for economic systems. The Chinese are STILL waiting for Mao’s promises to come true, and the Russians gave up on Lenin. While that’s no reason to quit trying, it does suggest that it’s no reason to abandon concsiousness shift either.

  9. How articulate and erudite of Fenian. Absolutely the dimmos are no Marxist, quite the contrary, how many would choose prison as Mandela did, to bring equality to the working class and those that are them poorest among us. 27 years of imprisonment and I don’t believe Pelosi, nor Schumer would give up their trappings for 6 months of jail to aid the middle class from the take-over by big business?
    In fact it was the dimmos, Clinton, that brought unions to the state they are in today. If you look closely you will find William Jefferson Clinton was a very very good repug.
    I think DJ is on track, maybe the difference between repugs and dimmos is which corporations are they lap-dogging for.

  10. […] Joe Bageant, author of Deer Hunting With Jesus. He grew up redneck in Virginia. Only the deadest political ear could fail to hear class resentment […]

  11. christianarchisti

    I believe the terms I used were plutocratic fascist naziesque orwellian roveiannly infanticidal caligulesque mengelsque americana, kings for an evening economic theology, puppet democracy and hidden royalty calling all the shots. I’m sure I’ll enjoy the read.

  12. Charles W. Copeland

    The first major mistake people make is thinking Bageant is a member of CPUSA. There have been numerous other socialist (which he describes himself as) groups in the US ranging from the IWW to the DSA. And not all of these groups derive their ideolgical oreintations from Marx. In fact, it might be wise for AMERICAN socialists like Baegent to take their conclusions from AMERICAN models unlike the Europeans.
    And that’s exactly what he has done.
    Socialism without a localized concept is dogmatic, and morbid. It only encourages vainglorious self-sacrifice for public attention. Bageant has legitimized AMERICAN CLASS ISSUES in a way they should be.
    This is coming from an umpteenth genration Scots-Irish AMERICAN who recognizes the roots of their culture.
    I would like to see someone with more recent roots question me on my legitimacy to question the existing order, or my “patriotism.”
    Maybe, if you have some ancestors who ACTUALLY FOUGHT in the first war (and that is THE REVOLUTION) you have something to say. Otherwise- Back the HELL off.

  13. Bageant doesn’t seem like a member of any socialist party, rather one who by learning about socialism, now sees the class differences and exploitation.

    We don’t really have a strong socialist tradition here, at least not one most know about. IWW, the labor battles of the 30’s, civil rights, antiwar movements – socialists were and are at the forefront of organizing (that’s what they do, organize.) Yet most people here, you mention socialism and they think you must love Stalin. Well, uh, no.

    Yes, socialism needs home-grown roots, or else it does become morbid, dogmatic, and way too theoretical.

  14. […] from a 62 yo white from Virginia to Joe Bageant, author of Deer Hunting With Jesus, Dispatches from America’s Class War. Here’s what I think. Senator Obama will win a lot of votes in Virginia, maybe not take the […]

  15. never really discussed what a society should look like after the over throw of capitalism. He only said that the power in society should be in the hands of the working class, and stuctured democratically to serve the needs of the people.

  16. I thought this is all about deer hunting with jesus, but haven’t read it. now it’s more like discussing the elites and all that. do class matter? yes of course, but where’s the hunting now? 🙂

  17. […] in the US that we are somehow classless. Bageant knows that’s not true, and wrote about it in Deer Hunting With Jesus, which explores his redneck roots and the small Virginia town he grew up in and where he moved back […]

  18. […] while back I reviewed Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus. He emailed me, saying I was one of the few reviewers […]

  19. […] attention. That includes the southerners and rednecks that make him so twitchy. (Hey Jim, go read Deer Hunting With Jesus, ok? These folks aren’t the enemy. Really.) So, if the populace is coming around to the view […]

  20. […] Joe Bageant‘s Deer Hunting With Jesus. Dispatches from America’s Class War, which I reviewed in June 2007. It deals with how poor whites, especially southerners, get pissed on and insulted by […]

  21. […] the inimitable words of Joe Bageant, author of Deer Hunting With Jesus. With Micheal Savage and Ann Coulter openly calling for liberals to be put in concentration camps, […]

  22. […] Pie: A Redneck Memoir has just been published in Australia, the follow-up to his well-received Deer Hunting With Jesus. Dispatches from America’s Class War. From the publisher. Rainbow Pie is a coming-of-age memoir wrapped around a discussion of […]

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