Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Kipling’s Kim and Kipling’s India

September 23, 2021

KIM by Rudyard Kipling (1901) with an introduction and notes by Jeffrey Meyers (2002) 

I read Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim as part of a reading group hosted by my friend Linda White.

Rudyard Kipling was a British imperialist.  He believed the British Empire was, for all practical purposes, permanent, and that it was a force for good.  The first belief proved wrong, and there are few who would defend the secondW.

So why read Kipling’s Kim?

Kim is an interesting story about the coming of age of a young boy and his struggle to define his identity.  Like Huckleberry Finn, Kim is often mistaken for a boy’s book because its central character is a boy, but it isn’t. 

Kim is also an idealized but fascinating portrait of the diversity of India, with its varied religions and ethnic groups.

Kim is the first, or one of the first, espionage thrillers, a new genre in which the spy is the hero and not the villain.

And finally, Kim is a work by one of the masters of the English language.

Kipling was, as we newspaper reporters used to say, a great wordsmith.  Anybody who loves writing can benefit from reading his sentences closely and noting his word choices and the rhythm of the sentence.

He is one of the few 20th century writers admired by both critics and the general public

His books of poetry were best-sellers.  Their rollicking rhythms stick in the mind, like Broadway show tunes.  He also wrote novels short stories, including the Mowgli and Just-So stories for children.  Henry James praised his prose style and T.S. Eliot edited an edition of his poetry.  He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.

The hero of Kim is Kimball O’Hara, the orphan son of an Irish ex-soldier and a servant woman.  We meet him at age 13.   Kim has allowed to run wild in the streets of Lahore (now part of Pakistan).  He speaks local languages better than he speaks English, and is so sunburned nobody thinks of him as white.  

He earns money by begging and carrying messages.  The closest thing he has to a mentor is Mahbub Ali, an Afghan horse trader who turns out to be an agent of British intelligence.

As the novel opens, Kim encounters a Tibetan lama and decides to follow him on his religious quest.  They have adventures as they travel along the Great Trunk Road, meeting varied people.  These passages show Kipling’s genius as a descriptive writer, both of people and of the sights and sounds of India.  

He makes contact with his father’s old regiment, which takes him in.  He attends the regimental school briefly, then a Catholic school that serves India’s native Catholics.  These include the Thomas Christians, whose ancestors were supposedly converted by the Apostle Thomas, and mixed-race descendants of Portuguese seamen and traders who came to India in the 16th century—another example of India’s diversity.

Manbub Ali and Colonel Creighton, the secret head of British intelligence in India, are impressed by Kim’s talent for languages, disguise and deception and determine to groom him for a career as an espionage agent.

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Book note: Strike the Hammer

September 15, 2021

STRIKE THE HAMMER: The Black Freedom Struggle in Rochester, New York, 1940-1970 by Laura Warren Hill (2021)

I’ve lived in Rochester, N.Y., since 1974, more than half my life, and I thought I knew its history well.  But I learned important things from Laura Warren Hill’s Strike the Hammer that I never knew.

Most people who live here know that there was a two-day uprising in black neighborhoods in the city in 1964, leading to a new awareness by the city’s white leadership of racism and the need to do something about it.

I call the violence an uprising rather than a riot because it was organized, which is not to say it was pre-planned.  Churches, community institutions, black-owned businesses and businesses owned by whites with good relationships with the community were spared; police stations and other white-owned businesses were targeted.

I knew the uprising was triggered by police arrest of a drunken young man who disrupted a neighborhood street dance, when a false rumor spread that a police dog had bitten a young girl.

But I didn’t know of the outrages that put the community on hair-trigger.  In 1962, Rochester police beat a respectable young black man, not accused of any crime, so badly that he suffered two broken vertebrae and was confined to a wheelchair.

Early in 1963, police invaded a Nation of Islam mosque with police dogs while a religious service was in progress because of an anonymous tip about someone with a gun.  A few weeks later they arrested a young man for a traffic offense and beat him so badly he was hospitalized for 21 days.

Another thing I hadn’t known is that Malcolm X, then a leader of the Nation of Islam, was a frequent visitor to Rochester and had a warm relationship with Minister Franklin Florence, Constance Mitchell, Dr. Walter Cooper and other black civil rights activists.

The national NAACP forbid its local chapters to engage in joint actions with Malcolm X or the Nation of Islam because of its bizarre anti-white theology and antisemitism.  Black NAACP members in Rochester simply disregarded these instructions.

After the uprising, the Rochester Area Council of Churches, which was mainly led by literal white people, offered famed community organizer Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation a $100,000, two-year contract to advise Rochester’s black leaders.

Alinsky agreed, but only on condition that the invitation come from the black community itself.  Hill quoted Minister Florence’s recollection of Alinsky:

One thing that stayed with me, with Saul, he said, “Never mind my being invited here by the Council of Churches.  I refuse to come to Rochester unless you invite me.”  But here’s…the genius of Saul and organizing—he said, “You would have to get three thousand names of people in your neighborhood…before I come in with you.”…

“Now—” We’d raised with him, “Well, who’s paying you?”  He said, “That wouldn’t be your business, but I’ll tell you.”  He said, “Our contract is with the Council of Churches to come in and offer you a service, provided you invite me.”

I said, “Well, what about their money?”  He said, “Well, I’m going to take their money, but I’m not taking their money to do their bidding.  I’m taking their money because they won’t give it to you.”

The clincher for Florence was that Malcolm X vouched for Alinsky.  He said Alinsky was possibly the best community organizer in the USA, and black people should always be willing to learn new skills, no matter who the teacher.

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Baldwin debates Buckley (1965)

August 4, 2021

James Baldwin begins speaking at the 14-minute mark; William F. Buckley Jr., at the 39-minute mark.

The legend of black lawman Bass Reeves

July 27, 2021

Bronze statue of Bass Reeves in Fort Smith, Arkansas

Here’s something interesting I came across the other day.

WHO IS BASS REEVES? July 1838 – January 12, 1910

By Dave Amis

Born a slave in 1830s Texas, Bass was owned by Colonel Reeves, who taught him to shoot, ride, and hunt, but would not let him learn to read.  Bass grew to be a strong, physically impressive, and determined man who ran away at the age of 20 to be free.

Pursued by slave hunters, he narrowly escaped into the Indian Territory where Creek Indian Warriors accepted him into their tribe.  Bass learned to speak Creek, Cherokee and Seminole.  It is believed that Bass fought in the Indian Territory during the Civil War with the Union Indian brigades. ​

The Indian Territory, at this time, was a cesspool of violence.  In 1875 President Ulysses S. Grant named Congressman Isaac Parker, Federal Judge at Fort Smith, with the mandate to “save Oklahoma.”  The “Hanging Judge,” as he was soon to be known, brought in 200 deputy marshals to calm the growing chaos throughout the West.

The Indian Territory, later to include the Oklahoma Territory, in 1890, was the most dangerous area for federal peace officers in the Old West.  More than 120 lost their lives before Oklahoma became a state in 1907. ​

Bass Reeves

One of the first of the deputies hired by Judge Parker’s court was former slave from Texas, Bass Reeves.

Bass was known as an expert with pistol and rifle, stood about 6 feet 2 inches, weighed 180 pounds, and was said to have superhuman strength.

Being a former slave, Bass was illiterate.  He would memorize his warrants and writs.  In the thirty–two years of serving the people of the Oklahoma Territory, it is said he never arrested the wrong person due to the fact he couldn’t read.

Bass had a reputation throughout the territory for his ability to catch outlaws that other deputies couldn’t. 

He was known to work in disguise in order to get information and affect the arrest of fugitives he wanted to capture.

Bass is said to have arrested more than 3,000 people and killed 14 outlaws, all without sustaining a single gun wound.

Bass escaped numerous assassination attempts on his life.  He was the most feared deputy U.S. marshal to work the Indian Territory.

At the age of 67, Bass Reeves retired from federal service at Oklahoma statehood in 1907.  As an African-American, Bass was unable to continue in his position as deputy marshal under the new state laws.

He was hired as a city policeman in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he served for about two years until his death in 1910, at age 71, from Bright’s disease.

LINK

Was the Lone Ranger Black?  The Resurrection of Bass Reeves by Christian Wallace for the Texas Monthly.  This is the most reliable, most comprehensive and most readable article on Bass Reeves that I found on the Internet.  Many details of Reeves’ life are disputed, but there is no doubt that he was a remarkable individual who should be remembered.

Abraham Lincoln on trial for racism

May 31, 2021

Standing Lincoln sculpture in Chicago’s Lincoln Park

I was brought up to revere Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator.  But in recent years, I’ve read more and more claims that, in fact, he was just a white racist.

Last year some of the Black Lives Matter protestors toppled statues of people they considered symbols of American’s racist past.

They didn’t stop with Confederate generals, but went on to destroy statues of iconic American statesmen, up to and including Abraham Lincoln himself.

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointed a Monuments Project advisory committee to evaluate the city’s public statues, and the committee produced a list of 41 as possible candidates for removal.

The list includes five statues of Abraham Lincoln, as well as two of George Washington, one each of Benjamin Franklin and Ulysses S. Grant, and various French explorers, Civil War generals, generic Indians and other notables, plus plaques commemorating the first white settlers of the region.

The committee did not list Chicago’s statue of Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln’s great opponent on the issue of slavery, but it said it might recommend other statues for removal later on.

The Indictment

The case against Abraham Lincoln is as follows.

During his whole political career, he never was an abolitionist.  In fact, he went out of his way to assure white Southerners that he had no intention of abolishing slavery where it was.

Instead he was a supporter of the Free Soil movement, which opposed adding new slave states to the Union.  The Republican Party was founded to support Free Soil

Some Free Soilers were abolitionists, but others were outright white racists and many didn’t care one way or the other about slavery in the South.  Their objection was to free workers having to compete with slave labor.

Lincoln in many of his public statements despaired of white people and black people living together peaceably with equal rights.

Like many others of his day, he hoped that black Americans could emigrate to Liberia, a quasi-independent African nation established by the USA for that purpose.

Once elected President, his priority was to save the Union, not to abolish slavery.

He only issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 when the Confederacy seemed about to win recognition from Britain and France, as a means of rallying progressive world opinion to the Union side.

Even then, the proclamation only applied to areas under control of the Confederacy.  It freed not one slave in Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri or any other area under Union control.

The defense

Opposition to the spread of slavery was a big deal.  Both opponents and defenders of slavery believed that, without new territory for slave-worked plantation agriculture, slavery would die out in the USA.

That’s why, after Lincoln’s election, seven Southern states declared their independence before he was even inaugurated.

He did not try to entice these states back into the Union through compromise.  Instead he asserted federal authority by ordering the resupply of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, S.C.

His priority was to save the Union.  If the Union had not been preserved, there would have been no possibility of abolishing slavery.

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The enduring strength of Chinese culture

May 27, 2021

The Han Chinese are one of the oldest, largest and most unified of the world’s ethnic groups.  Their current success is not only due to their government’s policies, but the enduring strength of their culture.

For many centuries, the Chinese had a claim to be the world’s most advanced culture.  Marco Polo, who visited China in the late 13th century, was astonished at the wealth and wonders of China, including transformative inventions such as gunpowder, the magnetic compass, the printing press and paper money.

The purpose of the voyages of Christopher Columbus were to establish a sea route so Europeans could buy Chinese tea, porcelain (valuable dishware is still called “china”), silk and other manufactured products without going through intermediaries.

But then as now, there was a trade deficit.  As the Emperor Qianlong told the British McCartney mission in 1792-1794, the Europeans didn’t manufacture anything that the Chinese needed.  The British response was the Opium Wars.

Chinese culture was shaped by Confucius (Kung Tze), who taught the importance of duty, loyalty and responsibility—not individual self-expression.

Confucianism is based on five filial relationships—father to son, teacher to student, older brother to younger brother, older friend to younger friend and ruler to subject.

Society is seen as an extended patriarchal family.  Sons, students and subjects owe loyalty to their fathers, teachers and rulers.  Fathers, teachers and rulers have a responsibility to mentor and provide for their sons, students and subjects.

These are not equal relationships, but they are reciprocal relationships.  There is a historic Chinese belief that subjects have a right to rebel against rulers who have lost the “mandate of Heaven.”    

Government service throughout Chinese history was based on passage of examinations, a process that in theory and frequently in practice eliminated old-boy networks and provided opportunity for the poor but talented.

The Chinese have a history of absorbing not only their subjugated peoples, but their conquerors, such as the Mongols and Manchus, through intermarriage and cultural assimilation.  We can see this process going on now, with the Tibetans and Uighurs.

We Americans see diversity as our strength.  We attract people from all over the world, with different talents and ideas, and they all supposedly contribute to the common good.

But this only works if there is a unity underlying the diversity.  Bringing diverse people together in one place accomplishes nothing unless they have a common purpose.  Otherwise it is better to be unified and homogeneous, like the Chinese.

Belief in filial virtues means Chinese typically have strong family ties.

In some cultures, excessive loyalty to family can be a weakness.  Enterprising family members are held back by their duty to provide for their non-enterprising members.

But it can be a strength if the family is united in an ambition to be a dynasty.  The fictional Kee family in James Michener’s Hawaii, with its hard-driving matriarch, Char Nyuk Tsin (“Auntie Chow’s Mother), is an example of this.

Amy Chua’s “tiger mother” is almost a caricature of this.

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The greatness of Deng Xiaoping

May 26, 2021

Arguably Deng Xiaopeng was the greatest Chinese statesman of the 20th century.  Ezra Vogel wrote a biography of Deng, and discusses it in the video above.  I found the video highly enlightening, and maybe you will, too.

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Is Zionism racist? Should Israel exist?

April 8, 2021

Kibbutz ceremony, 1951 (Wikipedia Commons)

It isn’t possible to understand Zionism without understanding that Jews have a basic, understandable fear of being wiped out.

In medieval times, Christians regarded Jews as Christ-killers.

In modern times, blood-and-soil nationalists regarded Jews as disloyal foreigners.

Both forms of antisemitism were existential threats.

One of the doctrines of Christianity is that Jesus is the prophesied Jewish messiah. The question arises: Why don’t the Jews recognize their own messiah?

One easy answer is that Jews must be an exceptionally wicked people.  And from there, it is an easy to to saying they must be persecuted, killed or expelled.

In modern times, Jews were allowed out of their ghettos to participate in civic life. But a new question arose. The basis of nationhood was blood and soil—a group of people of the same lineage occupying the same territory.

But Jews are of different lineage, and they have no territory.   How do they fit in with modern nationalism?  They don’t.  And from there, it is an easy step to regard all Jews as potential or actual traitors.

This form of antisemitism inspired the Dreyfus case., in which a French Jewish artillery officer was falsely accused of treason.  The older form of antisemitism inspired the Beilis case, in which a Russian factory manager was falsely accused of the ritual murder of a Christian child.

Justice eventually prevailed in both cases, but the founders of the Zionist movement believed that Jews needed a homeland of their own—not just as a refuge from antisemitism, but because they were a nation with the same right to a homeland in which they were in the majority..

That was one of the roots of Zionism.  The other was a fundamentalist religious nationalism, inspired by Biblical prophecies, that links the Jewish people to their ancient homeland.  There are fundamentalist Christian Zionists, based on the same prophecies.

Zionism in its early years was a controversial movement among Jewish people.  Jews in western Europe and North America mostly regarded themselves primarily as Americans, Britons, French, Germans and so on who happened to be a different religion than their fellow citizens.

This changed during the Second World War.  Hitler’s attempted genocide of the Jews was matched by an unwillingness of Allied nations, including the USA, to accept more than a token number of Jewish refugees.  The British government did its best to prevent Jewish immigration to Palestine, lest they provoke the Arabs into revolt.

I am old enough to remember the Allied war propaganda during the Second World War.  Hitler’s antisemitism was not emphasized.  Knowledge of the Holocaust was suppressed.  I think now that Roosevelt, Churchill and other Allied leaders feared to give credence to Hitler’s claim that the war was being fought on behalf of the Jews.

After the war, Europe was filled with “displaced persons” camps.  All the DPs had homelands to which they could return, except for the Jews.  So a lot of them headed for Israel.

Invading a country and driving out the inhabitants is now regarded as a crime against humanity.  But if I had been one of those Jewish DPs, I wouldn’t have cared.  All I would have cared about was having a place I could call my own.

Of course, if I had been a Palestinian Arab at the time, I wouldn’t have cared about the plight of the Jewish refugees.  I wouldn’t have seen any reason why I should lose everything because of events in Europe.

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Book note: Ida B. Wells’ autobiography

March 30, 2021

Last year Ida B. Wells, a black woman who died in 1931, received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for her investigative reporting about lynching.

She lived in a time when white people could not only kill black people with impunity, but commonly turned the killing into a public spectacle.  She was a pioneer and one of the few who reported on this.

Black people deemed guilty of crimes, rather than being put on trial, were hanged, mutilated, burned alive or tortured to death while crowds looked on.  Lynchings were sometimes written up in local newspapers.  Public schools were let out at least once so that children could witness the spectacle.

Wells fearlessly went to the scenes of lynchings and riots in order to get an accurate picture of what really occurred, and her work brought the crime of lynching to the attention of the wider world.

Click to enlarge.

To learn more, I read her autobiography, which recently has been reissued.  She said she wrote it in order to provide a factual record of black struggles, and so there is little in it of her personal reflctions or feelings. She led an interesting life, but wrote about it in very prosaic way. 

Ida B. Wells was born in 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, the daughter of slaves and technically a slave herself.  

Her father, James Wells, was the son of a white slave owner and an enslaved black woman. The owner’s wife had no children and, when the owner died, his widow had Wells’ mother stripped naked and whipped. 

Her mother, Elizabeth, was born on a plantation in VIrginia and “sold South.”  She never was able to reconnect with her parents and siblings. Such were the realities of slavery.

Ida B. Wells’ parents were strict and loving, with high standards of personal behavior and a strong sense of independence.  They saw to it that their children got every educational opportunity offered by Reconstruction..

They died in a yellow fever epidemic, along with many of Wells’ siblings, when she was 16.  She went to work as a school teacher, supporting four younger siblings.

Over time she wrote for church publications, realized she had a talent for writing and became a  journalist.  This became a full-time job after she was fired from her teaching job for criticizing conditions in segregated black schools.

While in her 20s, she challenged segregation in a lawsuit, a decade before the Plessy vs. Ferguson legalizing “separate but equal” segregation.  She was traveling on a first-class train ticket, and a train conductor tried to force her to leave the first-class car and go to the smoking car.

She refused and resisted, and it took three men to eject her from the car.  She sued on the grounds she was denied what she paid for, was successful in a lower court and was offered a generous settlement if she would not contest an appeal.  Even though she could really have used the money, she refused, and lost the appeal.

The year 1892 found her in Memphis, Tennessee, the editor and part-owner of a newspaper called the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight in Memphis, Tennessee.  It had a wide readership among African-Americans.  Illiterate black people bought it and had it read to them, and it was printed on special pink paper so they could read it.

Three black friends of hers, the owner of the People’s Grocery Store and two employees, were lynched by a mob.  She wrote many articles in protest, supported a boycott of white-owned businesses and advocated that black people leave Memphis for the new territory of Oklahoma, which many did.

She said she had been led to believe that lynching was a response to rape and other violent crime, but she began an investigation into lynchings and found that, as with her friends, they were often provoked by black people competing successfully with white people.

She also found that alleged rape cases were actually consensual relationships between black men and white women.  When she published this in her newspaper, an enraged mob destroyed the newspaper offices and press.  She was out of town at a A.M.E. Church conference at the time, and was warned she would be killed if she tried to come back.

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Patriarchy was a positive ideal, now fading

March 23, 2021

Patriarchy is a way of thinking about things that was accepted in every major civilization, until now.

The basic idea of patriarchy is that society is, and should be, organized on the model of the extended patriarchal family, guided by a powerful and wise father.

The patriarch had a responsibility to guide and protect the family.  In return, his children and dependents were obligated to obey him.

This was the rationale for the authority of Emperors, Kings, Popes and Caliphs, who supposedly stood in relation to their peoples as loving fathers to their children.

It was the moral basis of royal dynasties, feudal lords, family businesses and humble peasant households.

Not only society, but the whole universe was supposedly organized on a patriarchal basis. 

Jews, Christians and Muslims worship a Heavenly Father, a powerful, wise and good parent who loves us and watches over us, and expects our love and obedience in return.

The senior gods of the Greco-Roman and Hindu pantheons were patriarchal fathers who headed extended families.

There were places for women in many of these religions—the Virgin Mary and various saints in Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, goddesses in the pagan pantheons, but always in a subordinate place to a father figure..

The five filial relationships of Confucianism—son to father, student to teacher, younger brother to older brother, younger friend to older friend, and subject to ruler—are patriarchal relationships. Notice they are all male-to-male relationships.

All the relationships are parallel to the father-son relationship.  The father (teacher, elder, ruler) protects and guides the son (student, youth, subject) who gives loyalty and obedience in return.

Many different societies believed in a version of the Great Chain of Being—a hierarchical ladder stretching down from God through kings and aristocrats to humble peasants, who, however, exercised patriarchal authority over their wives and children.

The patriarchal hierarchy could be a system of amoral naked power.  Thomas Piketty, in Capital and Ideology, mentioned a medieval French aristocrat who punished rebels by cutting off their hands and feet and returning them to their families.

Even when the patriarchs lived up to their moral code, the system was still oppressive in many ways.  I wouldn’t want to go back to the old ways. 

But there was something valuable there, a relationship of responsibility and loyalty, that has been lost.

Our problem today is that our institutions are still organized as patriarchal hierarchies.  But the people in charge of them no longer have confidence in patriarchal authority or exercise patriarchal responsibility—neither paternal responsibility for those in their charge nor loyalty to any authority above them.

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Christopher Lasch and the case against progress

March 8, 2021

The American Dream, as I was taught growing up, is that it is possible for members of every generation, provided they make the effort, to be better off than members of the generation before.

Recently I finished reading THE TRUE AND ONLY HEAVEN: Progress and Its Critics by Christopher Lasch (1991), which argues that all this is an illusion.  He wrote that limitless material progress is not only impossible, but incompatible with the idea of justice.

Lasch, who died in 1994 at the age of 61, was a thinker who didn’t fit any of the usual categories.  A radical in politics and economics, he was a conservative in morals and culture. 

Virtue in the contemporary USA is equated with striving for success, according to Lasch.  Success is defined as improving your economic and social status.  This is not enough to inspire a good society or a good life.

He is nearly forgotten now, but I find his ideas more relevant today than I did during his lifetime.  Most Americans are pessimistic about the future, and with good reason.

Lasch didn’t believe in optimism, which is faith that things are bound to get better.  He believed in hope, which is the unwillingness to give up.

The True and Only Heaven is an intellectual history.  Lasch told how various thinkers, generation by generation, decided it was necessary to subordinate tradition, religion, family loyalty, self-government, patriotism and other moral principles to the goal of increasing moral output with less work.

The book begins with Adam Smith and the idea that free enterprise plus self-interest would ensure ever-increasing material abundance.

Smith did have misgivings, as Lasch noted.  He thought enlightened self-interest was an ignoble motive, compared to patriotism and religious faith. 

He noted that the widening of the market would lead to increasing division of labor.  He predicted assembly-line production, which he saw as degrading.  He also worried about replacement of militias with professional armies, which he saw as leading to a decline of discipline and patriotism.

But Smith was no friend of large corporations, which is his day were almost all government-established monopolies.  His vision was a society of prosperous independent farmers, artisans and shopkeepers.

He famously said that the self-interest of the baker, the brewer and the butcher who provided him with his dinner would be kept within the limits of a baseline middle-class Protestant morality.  As for the rest, he hoped popular education would make up the difference.

Smith’s vision seemed to be realized in the northern United States between the Revolution and the Civil War.  It seemed that any hardworking, thrifty Protestant white man could thrive as a farm owner, shopkeeper or self-employed artisan.  Working for wages was something you only did when you were getting started in life.

After the Civil War, as the USA transformed from an agricultural to an industrial nation, it became apparent that the economy would be dominated by large corporations, and that the majority of American workers would be “hirelings” all their working lives.

This was shocking, at the time.  Many an editorial was written about the equivalence of “wage slavery” and “chattel slavery.” 

But in the end, most people accepted the corporate form of capitalism as the price of continued progress. 

Karl Marx was one of them.  In contrast to the “utopian” socialists, who experimented with alternative ways of organizing society, he thought corporate capitalism was a stage through which civilization had to pass on the way to socialism.

He wrote about how capitalism substituted profit-seeking for all other values—tradition, community, kinship, religion, even the marriage bond. 

But Marx thought that was a good thing in the long run because these older values were obstacles to human liberation, which could be achieved once industrial productivity reached the point of being able to provide abundance for all.

John Maynard Keynes thought the salvation of capitalism required the sacrifice of the core values of capitalism itself—hard work and thrift.  Rather the functioning of the capitalist machine required spending and borrowing in order to maintain consumer demand.

He, too, looked forward to a future of effortless abundance, without, in his case, even the need for revolution.

Material output in the USA, UK and other industrial nations has reached the level that Keynes hoped for.  But here is the result, according to Lasch—

To see the modern world from the point of view of a parent is to see it in the worst possible light.

This perspective unmistakably reveals the unwholesomeness … of our way of life: our obsession with sex, violence and the pornography of “making it”; our addictive dependence on drugs, “entertainment” and the evening news; our impatience with anything that limits our sovereign freedom of choice, especially constraints of marital and family ties; our preference for “nonbinding commitments”; our third-rate educational system; our third-rate morality; our refusal to draw a distinction between right and wrong, lest we “impose” our morality on others and thus invite others to “impose” their morality on us; our reluctance to judge or be judged; our indifference to the needs of future generations, as evidenced by our willingness to saddle them with a huge national debt, an overgrown arsenal of destruction and a deteriorating environment; our inhospitable attitude toward the newcomers born into our midst; our unstated assumption, which underlies so much of the propaganda for unlimited abortion, that only those children born for success ought to be allowed to be born at all.

It didn’t have to be that way, Lasch wrote.  Economic and intellectual elites consciously chose material progress over other values, and opposed those who proposed alternatives.

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US political polarization, past and present

February 23, 2021

Thomas Nast cartoons from the 1870s

Polarization in American public life is based on identity politics. That is, we Americans are more divided over who we think we are than over what we think needs to be done.

This isn’t anything new. We’ve always been more divided over race, religion, ethnic culture and region than over econom.

Or rather, clashes over economic interests have taken the form of clashes over race, religion and regionalism.  For example, the antagonism between native-born Yankee Protestants and immigrant Irish Catholics was not over questions of theology.

During the Gilded Age period lasting from the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of the New Deal, the Democratic Party got the votes of Southern white people, Catholics and Jews, and the Republican Party the votes of Northern white Protestants, plus African-Americans in the parts of the country where they were allowed to vote.

Even when I was growing up in the 1940s, Jews and Catholics were barred from many elite clubs and college fraternities.  Most universities had quotas on the number of Jewish students that could be admitted.

It was taken for granted that no Catholic, no Jew and no white Southerner could be elected President, let alone a woman, an African American or an atheist.

During the Gilded Age, leaders of both political parties were committed to support of corporate business and suppression of organized labor. 

Bribery and corruption were common and out in the open.  So was election fraud.

Class warfare during that era was actual warfare.  The most extreme example was the Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia in 1921, where coal company supporters bombed militant coal miners from the air.

But none of this produced a realignment between Democrats and Republicans.  Opposition to corporate domination, such as it was, took place within the two political parties or, more rarely, through short-lived independent parties.

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How they used to clear the roads

February 18, 2021

How They Used to Clear Snowy Roads Before Trucks and Snowplows Were Invented by Rainy Noe for Core77.

‘Going easy on these people will not work’

February 4, 2021

Mike Lofgren, an anti-Trump former Republican insider, said in an interview for Salon that pro-Trump zealots need to be crushed, banished and ostracized.

It is necessary to see the historical analogies that tell us what works and what doesn’t work.  The thing that pops into everyone’s mind is the Civil War.

People tend to get all misty-eyed about Lincoln’s statement, “With malice toward none, and charity for all.”   That was his second inaugural address in March of 1865.

What were the results?  A couple of weeks later, what he got out of it was a bullet in the head.  What Blacks got out of it was Jim Crow.  What Confederates got was pardons, amnesties, dropped charges and the ability to rewrite history.

The rest of us were saddled with them, and now we have a large portion of the country — a single region that is basically a Third World state.

Source: Mike Lofgren | Salon.com

Okay, let’s look at historical analogies.  Abraham Lincoln bore no animosity toward the white people of the South.  But he was willing to wage a war that resulted in the greatest killing of white people of any war of the 19th century.  More Americans died in our Civil War than in all the wars of the 20th century.

General William Tecumseh Sherman in his march through Georgia burned crops, slaughtered livestock and destroyed farmhouses and workshops.   General Phil Sheridan did the same in the Shenandoah Valley.

Not only the Confederates, but much of the world at large regarded them as moral monsters.  All this was done with Lincoln’s approval, but not out of malice.

In his speeches, Lincoln never said anything to inflame hatred.  But this did not make him weak.  It did not stop him from doing what he thought had to be done.

The Union government for a decade made a good-faith effort to guarantee equal rights to the slaves, with some success.

This came to an end in 1876 not through an excess of Christian charity and forgiveness, but through a corrupt bargain of the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties.

In that year, the results of the Presidential election were disputed.  Republicans agreed to allow the Democrats, then the party of white supremacy, to control the South in return for allowing the Republican candidate to occupy the White House.

Even though the two parties worked together at the top level, leaders both kept the memories and hatreds of the Civil War alive.  This diverted attention from their underlying agreement to support corporate monopoly and oppose labor rights.

Today, so-called “red America” and “blue America” are so polarized that there is talk of a new Civil War.  Top-level leaders of both parties keep these antagonisms alive.

This diverts attention from their underlying agreement to support unending war and corporate monopoly and oppose labor rights.

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Rain of Gold: an immigrant saga

December 31, 2020

RAIN OF GOLD by Victor Villaseñor is a novelist’s re-creation of the lives of his  Mexican immigrant parents—their childhoods in Mexico in the early 20th century, their arduous journey to the United States and their lives up to the point of their marriage.

It was published in 1990 after 15 years of research in the USA and Mexico.  I never heard of it until I happened to come across it a few weeks ago in a free book exchange in my neighborhood.

Villaseñor’s parents—his father, the fierce, macho Juan Salvador Villaseñor, a child laborer who became a successful bootlegger, and his mother, the beautiful and good Lupe Gomez—were amazing people whose lives deserve to be recorded.

The stories of their survival, and of how they met, are sagas in themselves. In the telling, Villaseñor gives a detailed, fascinating picture of Mexican and Mexican-American life in the early 20th century. 

What’s especially interesting to me is how his parents resolved the conflict between the Mexican culture based on defense of personal honor  versus the US American culture based on achievement for personal success.

∞∞

Juan Salvador was the grandson of Pio Castro, a soldier who fought with Benito Juarez in the 1860s to liberate Mexico from a puppet government established by the French.  Pio Castro then went on to establish a prosperous and free community in the mountains of central Mexico called Los Altos de Jalisco.

But the family was pushed aside during the reign of Porfiro Diaz, and we meet Juan Salvador as an 11-year-old boy, on the road with his mother, brothers and sisters. trying to get to the United States.  They were so poor that, among other things, they ate grain found by young Juan Salvador horse droppings.

By age 13, Juan Salvador was working as an adult for a copper mining company in New Mexico.  He was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison for stealing scrap copper.  While he was awaiting trial, he accepted an offer of $500 (more than $50,000 in today’s money) to his family if he pleaded guilty to a murder the rich man’s son had committed.  He was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder.

While on a prison work gang, he was set upon by rapists and nearly killed while resisting.  He escaped from the prison hospital and made his way to Montana, where he worked in copper mines there under a different name.

Still a teenager, he learned from a Greek-Turkish mentor how to play poker for money.  He later became a valued employee at Montana’s biggest and most exclusive whorehouse.

By age 21, he had done well for himself in Montana, but answered an appeal by his sister Luisa to rejoin his family, which had moved to California.  Her message was that individual success is meaningless unless it contributes to the building-up of a family.  

At this time, Prohibition was in effect.  He continued to do well at cards—without cheating, the author emphasized—and made some money smuggling tequila across the border with Mexico.

He found himself in jail, together with a group of other prisoners dominated by two brutal Anglos.  He put down the two thugs, and established a kind of government in the cell, with elected judges and enforcers of order, paid out of a carton of cigarettes he’d brought with thim. 

A middle-aged Mafioso in the cell was impressed by Juan Salvador and made friends with him.  He agreed, for a price, to tell him how to distill whiskey.

At that time, although Juan Salvador had learned his ABCs from a Mexican cook in prison, he was functionally illiterate.  He could not read a newspaper in English or Spanish, nor locate Europe or China on a map. 

Yet he was able to make acceptable whiskey based just on an interview of a single person, and also run a successful business which happened to be outside the law.

I am a college graduate, but such things would have been beyond my ability.

The important thing about Juan Salvador is that although he was a criminal, he was an honorable man.  He didn’t cheat anyone, he didn’t exploit anyone and he kept his word.  His family, friends and neighbors looked up to him.

He carried a gun and, although the author is coy about whether his dad actually killed anyone, he was capable of violence.  Yet he was gentle with his loved ones.  He and his equally violent brother, Domingo, gave absolute respect and obedience to their mother, Dona Margarita.

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The Democratic Party never was a labor party

November 28, 2020

Political scientist Thomas Ferguson is the leading U.S. expert on money in politics.  In his book, Golden Rule: the Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems, he argued that national elections are always about conflicts between different economic interests, never about conflicts between working people and business in general.

There has never been a strong U.S. labor party along the lines of the British Labor Party or French Communist Party, which is explicitly anti-capitalist and pro-labor.

Political campaigning in the United State is expensive and, paradoxically, democratic reforms such as direct election of Senators and nomination of candidates through political primaries, have made it more expensive. 

Senator Bernie Sanders tried to create an alternative financing plan based on small donors.  It was remarkable that he got as far as he did, but he was crushed in the end.

This does not mean that issues on national elections are meaningless.  Rank-and-file voters have a stake in issues such as loose money vs. tight money, public works projects vs. budget austerity, free trade vs. protectionism, monopoly vs. anti-trust policy, etc.  It is just that none of these issues get traction unless there is a business interest behind it.

Even the Populist Party of the 1890s, which sought to unite farmers, wage-earners and small-business owners against corporate monopoly, got the support of silver mining interests, based on its plan to increase silver money, and it got its strongest support in mining states.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal never was anti-business, Ferguson said.  Organized labor did have a seat at the table of power during FDR’s administration, which is more than it had before or since, but it was never the dominant power.

Roosevelt took power in 1933 when the U.S. economy was in a state of collapse.  Many Americans, including representatives of big business, were willing to grant him the powers of a dictator.

He pushed through the National Recovery Act, aka “the first New Deal,” which attempted to stabilize the economy by organizing it as government-regulated monopolies, which prices and wages fixed by government.  The NRA failed, and also was rejected as unconstitutional.

FDR also pushed legislation for public welfare and to empower labor unions, such as the new CIO (Committee for Industrial Organization, then Congress of Industrial Organizations).  Business interests were split on this program.  They didn’t want to give high wages to their employees, but they did want their customers to have high disposable incomes.

In general, Ferguson said, labor-intensive business interests opposed the New Deal and capital-intensive industries, including the domestic oil industry, supported it.

The business community also split over free trade and protectionism.  One of FDR’s first actions was to take the U.S. off the gold standard, which meant a fall in the exchange rate for the U.S. dollar against foreign currencies.  That was bad for banks and other lenders, but good for exporters, again including the oil industry.

Roosevelt got authority to negotiate reciprocal trade agreements with individual foreign countries.  The U.S. lowered its tariffs in exchange for foreign countries lowering theirs.  Ferguson said this was highly popular among businesses that sold abroad.

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Eggheads, experts and elites in U.S. politics

November 4, 2020

My friend Michael J. Brown, an assistant professor of history at Rochester Institute of Technology, has written an interesting and important book entitled HOPE & SCORN: Eggheads, Experts and Elites in American Politics.

It consists of profiles of seven leading American intellectuals of the past 70 years, along with sidebars and cameos of many others.  Michael tells how they saw their roles as intellectuals and how they influenced, or failed to influence, American pubic life.

This is a significant topic.  Everybody in politics operates from a basic framework of ideas, whether they’re aware of it or not.  All our ideas and ideals about politics have their origin with some particular person, be that person Aristotle, Malcolm X or someone we’ve never heard of.  

The process by which ideas spread, or fail to spread, from individual thinkers to leaders or a general public is important to understand.

Michael Brown’s book is especially interesting to me because it is a counterpoint to another book I like, Thomas Frank’s The People, No, which is a critique of the “professional managerial class” (a.k.a. eggheads, experts and elites).

I like and agree with Thomas Frank and wish his books were more widely read.  But I have to admit that his latest book, in the interest of brevity and readability, skips over a lot of things and makes sweeping generalizations. 

In contrast, Michael Brown is more interested in exploring his topic and less interested in making a point.  He presents his characters in all their complexity and nuance, and pretty much leaves readers to draw their own conclusions.

Another reason the book is interesting to me is that I am in my 80s and have a living memory of the controversies Michael described.

Michael Brown begins his book with the defeat of Gov. Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, the original “egghead,” in the 1952 Presidential election.  But was his defeat due to anti-intellectualism?

Consider.  Stevenson’s opponent, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was virtually invincible.  As the former Supreme Commander of the Anglo-American forces in World War Two, he had such prestige that, if he had not chosen to run as a Republican, he could have had the Democratic nomination for the asking.  Stevenson, though honest and capable, did not have a chance.

My teenage bookworm self was impressed with Stevenson’s eloquent, literate self, but I see now that he was a defender of the status quo.  The reform candidate was Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, whose trademark was his corny coonskin cap.  Kefauver fought business monopoly and advocated consumer protection against unsafe products and prescription drugs that didn’t work.  He swept such Democratic primaries as then existed, but the party bosses, including Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, gave the Democratic nomination to Stevenson.

∞∞

I was a college student in the 1950s.  I read and admired The American Political Tradition (1948) and The Age of Reform (1955) by the historian Richard Hofstadter, the first intellectual profiled in Michael’s book. 

The underlying theme of Hofstadter’s books was that the supposedly great champions of the common people in American history were neither as great nor as democratic as commonly thought. 

Thomas Frank sees Hofstadter’s work as the intellectual seed of the backlash against New Deal liberalism and small-p populism.  I did not worry about this at the time because I did not foresee the possibility of any such backlash.

We campus liberals in the 1950s were not concerned about economic justice, because most of us thought of this as a solved problem.  We worried about threats to political and intellectual freedom, as represented by Communism and fascism abroad and McCarthyism and anti-black racism at home. 

These concerns were reflected in Hofstadter’s last book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963).  I never got around to reading it.  It may have been Hofstadter’s best book and the one most relevant to Michael’s study.

Hofstadter thought that two of the main sources of anti-intellectualism in American life were evangelical Protestantism, which values faith and religious experience more than scholarship and theology, and the culture of business, which values practical knowledge over book knowledge.  Over and above that, the idea of democracy is that every person’s judgment carries the same weight as any other’s.

The great need, he thought, was for intellectuals and experts to be protected from outside pressures while they did their work.   His attitude, like my own in that era, was defensive, which is to say, conservative.

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From Obama to Trump

October 22, 2020

I came across this interview with Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster and campaign strategist, on the Naked Capitalism web log today. 

It was done back in January.  I happened to turn it on and kept watching until the end.  It’s an hour long, another video that’s a little long to watch on a computer screen, but you can listen to it while doing something else, such as making and eating breakfast.

I don’t agree with everything Luntz had to say, he’s more inclined to give some people the benefit of the doubt than I am, but he is someone who gets around and who actually listens to people, and he had interesting things to say. 

I’m not sure the whole PBS Frontline series is worth watching,  but here are the links if you’re interested.

America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump, Part One.

America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump, Part Two.

The truth about the New Deal

October 21, 2020

A little long for something to watch on a computer screen, but worth watching even if you quit about the first 20 or 20 minutes.

[Added 10/21/2020]  The political scientist Thomas Ferguson is the foremost U.S. analyst of money in politics.  In his book, Golden Rule: the Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Politics, he said that Democrats and Republicans primarily represent competing business interests and only incidentally competing sets of voters.

Campaigning costs so much that nobody can run for high public office without the backing of monied interests or being extremely rich themselves.  So the there is an informal “money primary” before candidates put themselves before the voters in the official primaries.

But even the voter choice of competing business interests is partly an illusion, according to Ferguson.   In national elections, with rate exceptions, the candidate that spends the most money wins. 

For what it’s worth, Joe Biden at this moment is outspending Donald Trump, which he might not have been able to do if he had gone against Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the fossil fuel industry and other entrenched business interests.

Bernie Sanders, by turning to small donors, tried to create an alternative to funding from big-money interests.  Just because he took this approach, he was long treated as a fringe candidate by major newspapers.

Sanders and many other progressives look back to the Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal as a time when government actually represented working people.  Ferguson, in this interview, says the truth is more complicated.

Unlike in Germany, France, Britain and many other European countries, labor unions in the United States were never powerful enough to have their own political party.  FDR’s New Deal was a coalition of business interests that benefited from free trade, such as the oil industry, and desired a revival of consumer spending more than they objected to social welfare spending.

The power of labor unions during the 1930s and 1940s came primarily from their success in organizing previously unorganized workers, Ferguson said.  The Wagner Act and other pro-labor laws helped, but would not have empowered labor by themselves.

The New Dealers, for all their concessions to racism and their other flaws and compromises, did enact programs of great and continuing benefit to all Americans, including African-Americans. 

But the alignment of political forces today is different from what it was in the 1930s, Ferguson noted.  For example, international economic competition was not important in the 1930s, but it is a vital issue today.  History may rhyme, but it doesn’t repeat.

In Russia, too, truth-telling can be a crime

October 12, 2020

] Historian Yuri Dmitriev at work (2008)

Oliver Rolin, writing in the New York Review of Books, told about  the Russian historian, Yuri Dmitriev and his effort to identify the remains of persons killed and thrown into mass graves during the Stalin era.

He told me how he had found his vocation as a researcher—a word that can be understood in several senses: in archives, but also on the ground, in the cemetery-forests of Karelia.

In 1989, he told me, a mechanical digger had unearthed some bones by chance.  Since no one, no authority, was prepared to take on the task of burying with dignity those remains, which he recognized as being of the victims of what is known there as “the repression” (repressia), he undertook to do so himself.  Dmitriev’s father had then revealed to him that his own father, Yuri’s grandfather, had been shot in 1938.

“Then,” Dmitriev told me, “I wanted to find out about the fate of those people.”  After several years’ digging in the FSB archive, he published The Karelian Lists of Remembrance in 2002, which, at the time, contained notes on 15,000 victims of the Terror.

“I was not allowed to photocopy.  I brought a dictaphone to record the names and then I wrote them out at home,” he said. “For four or five years, I went to bed with one word in my head: rastrelian—shot.  Then, I and two fellow researchers from the Memorial association, Irina Flighe and Veniamin Ioffe (and my dog Witch), discovered the Sandarmokh mass burial ground: hundreds of graves in the forest near Medvejegorsk, more than 7,000 so-called enemies of the people killed there with a bullet through the base of the skull at the end of the 1930s.”

Germans have bravely faced up to facts of the Nazi era, and we Americans are starting to face up to our history of slavery and repression of black people and our ethnic cleansing and dispossession of indigenous peoples

But Vladimir Putin’s Russia is not willing to face up to the truth about the Stalin terror.  The state’s response was to reailroad Dmitriev on trumped-up charges of sexually abusing his adopted daughter.

Not content to persecute and dishonor the man who discovered Sandarmokh, the Russian authorities are now trying to repeat the same lie the Soviet authorities told about Katyn, the forest in Poland where NKVD troops executed some 22,000 Poles, virtually the country’s entire officer corps and intelligentsia—an atrocity that for decades they blamed on the Nazis. 

Stalin’s heirs today claim that the dead lying there in Karelia were not victims of the Terror but Soviet prisoners of war executed during the Finnish occupation of the region at the beginning of World War II.  Historical revisionism, under Putin, knows no bounds.

LINKS

Yuri Dmitriev: Historian of Stalin’s Gulag, Victim of Putin’s Repression by Olivier Rolin for The New York Review of Books.

The Dmitriev Affair: The Life’s Work and Trials of Yuri Dmitriev.

Russian court extends prison sentence for historian of Stalinist terror to 13 years by Clara Weiss for the World Socialist Web Site [Added 10/26/2020]

Even an FDR would have tough going today

October 6, 2020

In 2017, the incoming administration inherited a bad system that needed to be reformed, but, as we know. it wasn’t.  In 2021, the incoming administration will face overlapping emergencies probably even worse than Franklin Roosevelt did in 1933. 

The USA and much of the rest of the world faces not only an economic crisis, but an ongoing series of weather-related crises and probably a continuation of the pandemic plus ongoing international crises.

FDR was sworn in with the economy in ruins, including Wall Street and the banking system.  The country was pretty much ready to accept any bold action that FDR might propose. 

Yesterday’s leader

There were a number of political currents much more radical than Roosevelt––the CIO, the Progressive Party in WIsconsin, the Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota, Huey Long’s “Every man a king” movement.  The Communists and socialists didn’t have a mass following, but they were more influential than they ever were before or since and gave a lot of energy to the labor movement.

In the political spectrum of his time, Roosevelt was what we’d now call center-left.  The Democratic Party was never a true party. like the British Labor party or the French Communist Party, but labor unions had a place at the table, along with the oil industry, teh real estate industry adn so on..

The opposition to the New Deal didn’t coalesce until 1938, when the Republican-Dixiecrat alliiance blocked FDR’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court and FDR failed to purge the Democratic Party of his strongest opponents in the Senate.

Then, too, there was no military-industrial complex in the USA in the 1930s.  The U.S. had a smaller standing army than Portugal.  The military-industrial cpmplex as we know it today was a creation of the Democratic administrations of the 1940s and its main opponents were Republican isolationists, many of them progressives who remembered World War One

Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was in some respects like the New Deal—a short period of radical reform terminated by a war. Johnson’s legacy is as a great civil rights president – the greatest since Lincoln and Grant.

But except for Medicare, none of the Great Society programs provided universal benefits to a wide public, and none of them except Medicare were broadly popular.

Tomorrow’s leader?

The incoming president in 2021 will face a different balance of forces than FDR did.  Wall Street and the Fortune 500 corporations are not in disarray. 

Policies put in place during the Obama administration allow the Federal Reserve to prop up the banking and financial system without legislation.  The bailouts enacted by Congress earlier this year primarily benefit big business.

It is hard to see how any program of progressive reform can be enacted without a drastic reduction in military commitments and war spending.  But millions of Americans depend on the war machine for their livelihoods—not just plutocrats, but working people and the middle class.

We need to replace the military-industrial complex with a Green New Deal.  But I don’t see any mass movement in favor of it, and even if there were, it would be a big challenge to bring about.

The strongest mass movement we have in the United States today is the Black Lives Matter protest movement.  It is the biggest U.S. mass movement in my adult lifetime.

But the leaders of this movement, unlike the New Dealers, see the main division in the United States as racist white people vs. African-Americans and their allies. They don;t see it as the common people of all races vs. a rich and powerful elite.

Of course racial prejudice and racial discrimination, including police abuse of minorities, are a great evil and it is good that there is a strong movement for change.

But seeing everything through a racial lens is perfectly compatible with plutocracy and the forever wars.  That’s why BLM gets support from big corporations and foundations. 

The goals of Black Lives Matter need to be part of a larger, more inclusive movement, and I don’t see one on the horizon.  Of course this could change overnight.  Maybe it already has changed and I don’t see it yet.

Populism is not mob rule

September 22, 2020

Thomas Frank

Paul Jay did a good three-part interview on theAnalysis.news with Thomas Frank on The People, No, his new book about populism and anti-populism.

  1. Populism Is Not Mob Rule.
  2. Corporate Democrats Idolize FDR, But Hate His Policies and the Populists That Spported Them.
  3. Liberal Elites Will Create Conditions for Another Trump.

Some forgotten history of Midwest radicalism

September 22, 2020

A review of The People, No! by Jonathan Larson on the Real Economics blog adds historical background to Thomas Frank’s book.

His focus is on Minnesota rather than Kansas, and he provides a lot of interesting information about Scandinavian-American cooperatives,, the thought of Thorstein Veblen and the rise and fall of the Farmer-Labor Party.

This history should not be forgotten.  Click on this to read the review.

More about Thomas Frank’s new populism book

September 21, 2020

Democracy Scares, from the Destruction of Bryan to the Abdication of Bernie: Why America Desperately Needs a Second Populist Movement, But Ain’t Gonna Get One by John Siman for Naked Capitalism.

 

Obstacles to a new New Deal

August 31, 2020

The USA is heading into an economic crisis with evictions, foreclosures, small-business failures and unemployment rates like those of the onset of the Great Depression of the 1930s, made worse by the pandemic and catastrophic climate change.

But Thomas Ferguson, a political scientist whose specialty is money and politics, said that a second Great Depression will not necessarily result in a second New Deal.

The Great Depression was touched off with a crash in the financial markets.  Banks closed.  Business profits fell.  This weakened both the credibility and political power of big business.

No such situation exists today, Ferguson noted.  The Federal Reserve is propping up the banks and the financial markets.  The super-rich are actually richer and more powerful than ever.

President Roosevelt’s first response to the crisis was the National Recovery Act, a kind of democratic corporate state.  It was only when big business turned against him that the New Deal as we remember it emerged. with Social Security, the Wagner Act and so on.

The impetus for the true New Deal came from the new labor movement organized by John L. Lewis and the CIO.

Conditions today are different. Ferguson said.  Big business is entrenched in both parties and is able to block popular and necessary reforms such as Medicare for all.

There are wildcat strikes and a few militant unions, but nothing as yet like the labor movement of the 1930s.

Ferguson saw some long-range hope in the insurgent movement in the Democratic Party as represented by the Justice Democrats and other factions.  But in the long run, as someone said, we are all dead.  The crisis is not going to put itself on hold until 2022 or 2024.

LINKS

Biden Blurring Almost Everything, an interview of Thomas Ferguson for theAnalysis.com.

Joe Biden’s Platform for 2020: Anti-Populism by Bill Scher for POLITICO.

The Non-Voter by Chris Arnade for American Compass.