Monday, June 15

American History: Part 2-20th century

The Gilded age saw laissez-faire capitalism evolve to its fullest and most ruthless form in the name of industrialization. Workers worked in miserable factory conditions with no labor rights and no fair wages . When workers unionized the government and bosses attempted to suppress them with the army, national guard, police, and private detective agencies like Pinkerton Detective Agency. This continued into the 20th century thanks to the stubbornness of the government and industrial bosses in granting workers any rights at all from the start of militant union in the early 1860s until the early 1900s when progressivism forced the government to make some reforms to appease the militant strikes that rocked the country conducted by the Industrial Workers of the World Union, the Western Federation of Miners, and other militant unions.
During WWI, the government coerced unions into waiving their rights to strike in the name of the war and better working conditions. IWW recognized the supposed improved conditions as a fallacy and striked anyway while unions like the American Federation of Labor, an elitist “skilled” labor-only movement, sold out and gave into government controls which have kept this organization stagnant even til this day. The split in the labor movement gave the government room to attack.
Government response to the peak of union radicalism and strength in the form of IWW was to raid their headquarters in all over the country in the name of national security and arrest their leaders in what became known as the Palmer Raids. Nevertheless, union struggles pushed the government to pass trust busting laws under President Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft. Because of the struggles of the labor movement, corporations do not have as great a power to hustle working people not only in terms of worker’s wages, but also in terms of collaborating to keep prices high as well as out-right lie in advertisement.
After subduing radicalism in the labor movement, the 1920s was a period of conservatism and gilded prosperity for investors. Capitalism thrived like never before for about nine years, bringing untold wealth to the already wealthy. Then one day in 1929 the pyramid scheme collapsed and millions ended up jobless all because of unregulated gambling on wall street. Suddenly the people had power to change things again and during the thirties America brought its self near socialism in order to avoid the end of the capitalist system. Not only did Communists align with liberals and liberals with unions and anarchists in a big united coalition against fascism worldwide, but the president of the United States was forced to expand the role of the government to something that finally served the people setting up pubic works projects, social security for the elderly, medical care for the poor, and other greatly needed reforms to once again calm the people from social revolution.
Textbooks declare that the end of the great depression was due to the industrial expansion of the economy during WWII. What this meant was that only by building on the industry of death, the armed forces, could the broken system return to some sort normal economic situation. Part of the reason for the depressions length was that FDR, despite being more progressive then his predecessors, was still in the historic role of presidency and didn’t feel comfortable with spending to much on the people. So in 1936, ignoring signs of recovery in areas where the government was setting up social programs, FDR cut New Deal programs and the economy again slumped and then slowly revived itself until the war when FDR introduced the Second New Deal.
WWII was a tragic war in which millions of young working people were drafted up, sent of to war and killed, same as 3 decades earlier. The common argument is that it was necessary to destroy fascism. The truth was that the bosses and the government did not care to much about fascism, rather they didn’t mind it as long as it didn’t clash with the United States and its allies. They let it spread untouched to Spain despite the heroic struggle the Spanish people put up. They let it spread to Czechslovakia, Austria, Ethiopia, etc. Businessmen like Ford for example even sold trucks to Franco’s fascist forces in Spain, because in the end profit is more important than supporting democratic forces. The U.S. regained its economic confidence by sustaining little damage on the homefront and coming out on top, but the lives it cost will never be forgotten, and the men and women who volunteered in the Lincoln Brigade to fight in Spain, the very first battle against fascism, those who would not put up with America’s blind eye to fascism, must never be forgotten even if they are often ignored.
After the War, presidents Truman and Eisenhower presided over a national purge led by Senator McCarthy. The purge, often called “McCarthyism” or “The Red Scare (pt. 2),” aimed at squashing dissent and promoting conformity in the new age of planned suburban life. The Smith Act along with countless state laws curbed peoples right to advocate anti-government ideas or hold anti-government political meetings. With every passing generation came new wisdom and a group known as “the beats” , with roots in the Lost generation of writers and artists of WWI and perhaps even the militant labor movement of the thirties, introduced Americans to new ways of thinking. At the same time the resistance by black people to jim crow in the south was slowly gaining strength as the opportunity to win rights in the name of countering soviet propaganda which blankly pointed to how racist capitalism really was to the revolutionary movements of Africa and Latin America like the African National Congress in South Africa and the July 26th Movement in Cuba. Although the movement started peaceful and patriotic, after brutal police beat downs, being sprayed with hoses, and murder of civil rights activists the movement realized that only through militant struggle could freedom be won. The whole culture of the 1950s was one of conformity, and consumerism despite lies of America being the “land of individualism. Bosses set up “company unions” and encouraged people to buy cheap conformed suburban housing. In Levittown, the first suburb, the peverted ideal American dream community meant no black people were allowed to live there. All this would culminate into an explosion in the 1960s.

in the 1960s, with the civil rights movement slowly gaining militancy and strength, and the ideas of the beats and third world revolutionaries like Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh catching on with students, the result was an explosive situation which saw the beginning of the modern day culture war present today. During the 1960s the country saw clear polarization not just between labor and bosses, but between social progress and conservative stagnation. People revolted in Watts and other cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. coincidently when he started radicalizing and speaking against the war, and also when police brutality had become too much for the people to accept. The government conducted the Warren Commission and declared a war on poverty to try to calm the revolutionary situation. The Black Panther Party, a militant black revolutionary organization forced the government to expand welfare when they opened community breakfest programs and took active roles in the forgotten urban neighborhoods all over the country. The chance for revclution slipped because each act of protest was each militant but isolated, or widespread but to peaceful. A Machine with one part broken can easily be fixed, but if all the parts break at once, only then will you get a new one.
The momentum of the movement of the 1960s against the war, abuses on civil & woman’s rights, and for greater democracy slowed due to the governments relentless will to crush the anti-war and black power movements, and with the Black Panther Party, in particular, the government viciously infiltrated and tore the movement to shreds by turning activist groups against one another as well as the members within them. COINTELPRO succeeded in planting big brother agents in positions of power that allowed them to derail the party into oblivion. The program was titled COINTELPRO, and it was the blatant suppression of free speech and a continuation of the legacy of the oppression that is inherent to any centralized top-down state.
The big event that represents the tyranny of government was of course Watergate. The Scandal which brought down President Nixon by revealing his participation in wiretapping of his electoral opponents through a break-in, and the subsequent effort to cover up the crime. Also revealed but hushed , was the workings of the American system of “democracy,” where American Airlines, 3M, Good Year, and Milk corporations made campaign donations in exchange for favorable policy on the part of the government. After it all collapsed and corruption exposed to the highest levels, congressmen and senators pushed Nixon bow out gracefully taking all the blame for a system that allowed him to commit crime in the name of “national security.” In exchange, Nixon would not be charged, and his cronies, take Erlichman and Kissinger for example, would face light charges of small fines and suspended prison time, or get off scott-free and be allowed to even stay in the White House. The result was that mechanisms for the perversion of democracy stayed, while one man took the fall. It would set the precedent that criminal doings once you were in the position of presidency, you had special privledge that ordinary citizens did not and that was the problem. It would lead to the Iran-Contra Scandal of the 80s and all kinds of presidential scandals that are now often cut short before they reach the highest office.
Foreign Policy in the 1970s to 1980s reflected the collapse of people’s movements. As the percentage of eligible voters dropped to about 50% in the 70s, moral-less neo-colonialism continued with Ford’s continued aid to South Vietnam in order to secure grounds for “oil exploration and tourism” as one congressman put it. After the North quickly toppled the southern puppet regime in 1975, Carter would refuse to aid Vietnam in its reconstruction despite the thousands of tons of bombs the US dropped on Vietnamese civilians, the napalm, the pellet-bombs, and village massacres like that of My Lai. Albeit, Carter was an Obama. He tried to bring re-inspire people in their country after the democratic lies with Vietnam and the Republican lies with regards to Watergate.
Reagan and the republicans would frame Carter as destroying American standing in the world after decades of US policy in support of an unpopular dictator, the shah, backfired and resulted in 52 US embassy employees being taken hostage. It wasn’t Carters fault, in fact it was more the fault of conservatives like Reagan who would advocate nonsensical anti-democratic support of pro-business dictators from Chile to Nicaragua and Afghanistan. However, Reagan would benefit and and usher in an era of neo-conservatism using this tactic of fear that would be used by conservatives until this day.
The Reagan-Bush era marked cuts in social welfare, curbs on free speech, and cuts on taxes for the wealthy. When air traffic controllers striked against Reagan’s conservative anti-union policies, he issued a decree to dimiss all of them. This action was a historic because it marked the reversal of presidents acting neutral in labor disputes. It was the tiannamen square of the American union. Reagan’s environmental policy helped establish the current carelessness of the government towards environmental degradation. He allowed businesses to decide their own environmental policy no matter how detrmimental. Reagan’s importance to the modern capitalist class is unique because his administration saw the thorough regression of gains made by people’s movements. Where Carter put solar panels on the White House, Reagan demolished them. Where a disease prevention program saving millions of lives could have been set up up, Reagan built a $1.5 Billion submarine for launching nukes en masse.
All of American History has been a struggle between working people, students, and the American people against a handful of wealthy planters, industrial robber barons, and reckless wall street investors. Today, Americans have been left jobless and homeless or without a loved one due to circus games of executives and investors in the housing industry and the war for oil in Iraq started by the politicians who represent the companies that contribute to their campaign, not the people who their supposed to represent. Capitalism makes profit come before democracy. It is why foreign policy has been skewed to support vicious dictators like Pinochet, Noriega, Batista, and the Somozas and why slavery and Jim Crow segregation haunts our history. It is why strikes were crushed, and students disenfranchised from elections and even the right to free speech today in my very own school. American History has, and will have until a social revolution occurs, a path of conflict between rulers and the people because no matter who is put in charge, the nature of the state is one born from racist slavery and free market capitalism. These foundations cannot be completely reformed from the state because they helped develop and bring the ruling class of the U.S to what it is today. History in our schools has been taught in a incoherent and “patriotically” blemished manner that causes many students to lose interest. While the telling of history has become more democratic in recent years due to the internets creation of a global community, and the end of the cold war opening up third way voices, there is still a long way to go before people understand the truth in history; the crimes not just the glories. This will inspire people to then act to change things in the today.

Works Cited

"About the Smith Act Trials." Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois. 2 June 2009 . The Smith Acts severely inhibited American Democracy during the McCarthy era. This is the story.

D. Roosevelt, Franklin. "On the Purposes and Foundations of the Recovery Program - July 24,." Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. 24 July 1931. 2 June 2009 . FDR's address in favor of social programs and explanation of them. I used the address in connecting FDRs role in saving the US economy with appeasing people through social welfare programs
"Economic Indicators during the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression (III). | The Economic Populist." The Economic Populist . 8 June 2009 .
Graphs illustrate the effect of the cuts in social programs on the economy during New Deal.

"Index of US Foreign Policy Documents." University of Wisconsin Digital Collections. 2 June 2009 . Unprecedented access to US foreign Policy documents shows the profit-motivated nature of US foreign policy

Loewen, James W.. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. New York: Touchstone, 2007. Resource; similar to A People's History

Martin, Joseph Plumb. Private Yankee Doodle. Harrisburg: Eastern Acorn Press, 1998. Story of a young farmer's enlistment during revolution

New York Community Media Alliance. "Voices That Must Be Heard: Divide and Conquer: Clintons exploit Black-Latino tensions - New York Community Media Alliance." New York Community Media Alliance. 7 June 2009 example of divide and conquer tactics

Sitkoff, Harvard. The Struggle for Black Equality: 25th-Anniversary Edition. New York: Hill And Wang, 2008. Covers struggle of black people to win their rights starting with slavery and reconstruction. instrumental in discussion of civil rights movement

Weigley, Russell F.. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973. In depth exploration of American War History, particularly useful with Civil War, Revolutionary War, and WWII

Zinn, Howard. People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present (P.S.). New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005. Explores popular movements and government abuses throughout American History. Useful throughout paper