Greg 00:00 [Intro] As Toni Morrison has put it, “the destiny of the 21st century will be shaped by the possibility or collapse of a shareable world.” Welcome to our podcast, where we explore the history, theory and practice of democratic socialism with our guide, big Mike. What can we learn from the past to help us create a better, more shareable world in the future?
Greg 00:32 Welcome back everybody to A Shareable World, with big Mike. We are in what is truly, maybe it’s our first, uh, true two parter. We’ve been talking about the Cold War after talking about the lead up to World War II and World War II and the situation that left the world in. And just a little review: we, um, were talking about kind of four large areas of the world, um, for thinking about the postwar period. So there’s (1) the West, principally the US and North America, uh, (2) Eastern Europe [i.e. the USSR], uh, (3) Western Europe, which we were also calling the, the, the Middle West in our last podcast. Uh, and then what, uh, has been called (4) the third world, which included already independent countries, but basically everybody else outside of those other three, other three areas. And, uh, we were just getting into how in the postwar period these four different areas all had their own particular problems and their own particular solutions for the situations they were finding themselves in. And we talked, uh, in some detail about the West when we thought it was, um, time to take a break. So how’s that for a lead up and shall we head into the—
Mike 01:56 I think we should go to the other extreme and talk about the East. How about Eastern Europe? So at the end of World War II, uh, Eastern Europe faced a, a whole series of problems which are interesting to speculate on because they were really radically different from the problems faced by the so-called West, by which I always mean the United States, primarily. We, we forget that partly as a result of a certain isolationism in the US before now, after, after World War I, the US ceased to be a great power in the world. It really did withdraw and it was only with incredible difficulty, after the beginning of the Second World War in Europe in 1939, Roosevelt wanted to, was told to bring the US into the war in support of England. Um, uh, Congress wouldn’t have it that people wouldn’t have it. And in all during the night, the year of 1940 Roosevelt until the early part of ’41—until the Japanese did Roosevelt’s work for him by attacking Pearl Harbor, uh, Roosevelt had a great deal of, uh, spending, spent a great deal of energy and political capital trying to push the US slowly, slowly towards supporting the antifascists in Europe, the so-called lend lease program, uh, and other forms of cooperation with the British.
Mike 03:33 So America didn’t become the great world superpower, uh, that it was going to be after the Second World War until that point. It was the Second World War that made the US into that superpower. It wasn’t, it wasn’t built into the nation’s destiny from the time of Washington and Jefferson and so forth. At the end of the Second World War, uh, the East faces, I say very different problems of readjusting to the non-war state of the world than, than did the American West. Uh, first of all, the, the, the amount of sheer physical destruction, particularly in Russia, was enormous. Uh, in human terms, some people have estimated as high as 80 million Soviets were killed in the Second World War. That’s, that’s a figure which needs a sentence of explanation. Of course, usually included in that figure is the number of people actually killed in war in one way or another, either on the battlefield or as prisoners dying in prison camps what have you, plus the loss of the natural increase in the population that would have taken place if a, that huge number of people, which was already, you know, maybe 20 million people that are killed, uh, in the, in, in, in battle.
Mike 05:04 There was that problem and that had, by the way, some very important, uh, um, effects on Soviet society and on the need to encourage the growth of the population out to the end of the war. Um, very interesting developments, like encouraging people to think about marriage after the Second World War. Until that point, most people didn’t think about marriage. Marriage was a bourgeois habit, which I believe it still is, you know, it’s kind of, um, it’s a strange phenomenon. Historically, marriage was about economic alliances between wealthy countries and most people did what they did and, uh, sort of some kind of human kindness or what have you, compassion and, you know, you see your children running around and you want to take care of them. But, uh, there was no rule of the state that made you take care of your children.
Mike 06:06 I say you got the families and the revolution, the Russian Revolution in 1917 was wonderful in that regard because I said, look, you know, only the bourgeoisie needs marriage and that’s just to safeguard their investments. I mean I don’t, I don’t want my, my daughter ending up in the arms of somebody else who’s interested only in my investments. Right? So that’s why Mary’s is important too, to draw those lines. Socialism got rid of those lines, or communism. But after the Second World War, the issue develops of how do you increase the population? And one way was to try to in a way re-establish and stabilize the family. And they did that through encouraging non-religious marriage. Of course we, we had that in the West long before you could go before the, before the justice of the peace. That’s non-religious state-based marriage. Right? And there was nothing that said you had to be married to have children.
Mike 07:05 Biologically words don’t, are not what makes children possible. Most of us know by that, the other way you make children. So, but so they instituted, for example, wedding palaces where they, where you have a bride and groom getting dressed up. Bride and grooms did and the magazines that came in from the West, you could see it. And then you had the local party secretary marrying them in the name of Stalin or something like that. Um, so then admonishing them to, to serve the party instead of to serve God. So it had very interesting social consequences. But anyway, the very physical reconstruction of the Soviet Union itself and of Eastern Europe, we remember that Berlin is totally destroyed by the war. Uh, this great, the great world city, um… and a significant part of Berlin, uh, fell into the hands of the communists as a result of the way in which Europe was divided, um, by mutual agreement in the course of the war. Um, at, at, at a certain point when the US began to become very active in European reconstruction and brilliantly put forth this idea of the Marshall Plan, which was meant that within a relatively short period of time, Europe was getting back on its feet economically. There was a lot of discussion whether or not that plan should be open to the Soviet Union and to the Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe.
Mike 08:47 The Russians were very suspicious of America, Americans of course very suspicious of Russians. And eventually the Russians decided not to, not to come into it. And the Americans were not at all unhappy that the Russians didn’t come into it. The world would have been very different if the, uh, if the Russians had come in and had been able to rebuild very much on the basis of American capital, which is the way Western Europe did. So reconstruction becomes really important. And by reconstruction or with reconstruction, we also have to think about the need to raise the capital for reconstruction. I mean, it costs money no matter what kind of society. The Russians had reoriented their entire life, everything, to the war they had to survive. Um, it’s hard to, it’s hard for us to imagine the consequences of the war in a society like that. So that after the war, the idea of using forced labor on public reconstruction projects, that becomes commonplace.
Mike 09:57 The—if the state is to survive, uh, indeed, if the society is to survive, the capital has to be squeezed out of the people in every way that they can squeeze it out. And that doesn’t mean just collecting a tax it also means collection of labor and the like. So slave labor camps of which there were many and in which lived in, in dreadful conditions, maybe as many as 20 million people. Uh, we can understand them not just as punishment or as ways of getting rid of elements of society you don’t want to have hanging around on the street corner, but also as a, as ways of harvesting human labor as a form of investment. And that’s a horrible way to think of it. But nonetheless that’s not an uncommon way to think of it. And, and indeed I would argue that the objectification of labor, which made it possible for the Soviets to use slave labor for that purpose is not very much different from the kind of objectification of labor which even in a capitalist country allows the capitalists that think of workers as uh, as amounts of money they have to spend in order to get their product produced.
Mike 11:26 You understand what I’m trying to get at—by no means is the consequence for the individual worker commensurate. But this objectification of labor, um, reification as the Marxists would say is perhaps not too different between the two systems. So there’s the reconstruction, the physical reconstruction side. Then there’s the question of the reconstruction of the society itself. This, the whole society, everything had turned to the war. So there comes the question of how are you going to, how are you going to reorient? How are you going to rebuild the governance of the society, the governmental structure, the state institutions, the economic institutions, and an argument here can be made, which I think is not invalid, that a harsh dictatorship played the historical role of accomplishing that.
Mike 12:23 Now, I don’t think either you or I would want to live in that kind of harsh dictatorship. I know I would not survive in that kind of harsh dictatorship. But a historian—one has one’s moral judgments, but one must also look at the function of what happens in the past. What, what people do with regard to their objectives and try to understand, not approve, but understand why certain things happen the way they happen. And I suspect that the, um, the way was paved for this in the period of the 1930s when Stalin on the way to asserting his primary and then sole, theoretically sole power. The leader, becoming the leader of the country, of the party… of course never is the, is a party or a state monolithic. That’s a fiction. You always have groups competing for power even around the throne of the king and the office of the dictator, right?
Mike 13:30 But nonetheless Stalin, very determinately and uh, consciously got rid of all possible competitors for power in the Purge Trials beginning in around ‘34 and go on through ‘38. Um, competitors. And also people with memory. He had to get rid of not only a, of people who might compete with him for power, but he also got rid of what were called the old Bolsheviks who were possible competitors. But also remember that in the earlier days, there had been discussions of alternatives, uh, and other ways of doing things. He needed to get rid of them also to establish his own control. So in a way, I think one could argue that as he saw… he faced two problems, that the, in the period right up in the run up to World War II. One problem was establishing internally, uh, his sole control or the appearance of sole control for him, for himself. And the other was how to avoid any of the vociferous, uh, tendencies in the Soviet Union itself, faced with what he undoubtedly saw was the eventual military challenge that Nazi Germany, fascism in general, was going to pose the Soviet Union pose to the Soviet Union, not because they wanted to impose their system over the Russians, but because Germany for a thousand years had been expanding East. There was a kind of a pulse in history, uh, going back a thousand years and, and, and, and a subject of great legend in Russian history, of the German, uh, pushed to the East. Um, at certain points during… princesses and so forth had become a very vital figures in Russian aristocracy, even rising to be his arenas, the wives of the czars and so forth. So there’s, um, the relationship between Russia and the Germans, central Europe is a long and complex one, which was certainly in Stalin’s thinking internationally, particularly as journey became so aggressive in the late thirties and into the beginning of the, uh, of the Second World War. So solving on both fronts internationally and nationally is, uh, preparing the country to resist under his sole authority.
Mike 16:07 Right when the war comes finally to Russia in 1941, it’s still a huge struggle to recover. And once the war is over, the reconstruction presents a phenomenal challenge. So without approving or in any way condoning one can nonetheless historically explain the moves that Stalin made and the kind of grotesque society that develops in Russia in the years after the, after the war. There had been already, we mentioned this in a previous discussion, there had already been in, in Soviet thought, in communist thought, the idea that the revolution would spread from Russia elsewhere. The revolution was the—took place in Russia, the first stage of the revolution. But it’s going to spread. There were those like, uh, perhaps Trotsky who thought that that the revolution, to survive, had to spread quickly to Europe, had to spread westward into Europe. And it’s interesting to note that in the, in the chaos that followed World War I, immediately following World War I, the intellectual and political chaos, the just, the falling apart of the Austro-Hungarian empire and so forth and so on.
Mike 17:37 You had cognitive revolutions in places like Berlin and Budapest. And um, for a few months there, there was the idea that maybe you would get almost independent communist regimes developing, but it didn’t happen. They were put down and defeated. Stalin moves, as he comes into power after Lenin’s death in 1924 Stalin moves in two very important directions. One was, you mentioned before, one is he moves in the direction of the idea of socialism in one country, that before the revolution can spread abroad, it must be consolidated in one country. So the Soviet Union as a result of that becomes synonymous with communism and it’s after World War II that that idea comes to fruition because then it becomes possible for the Soviet Union to use the Soviet Union itself, to use a territorial base, the military arm of the communist state, the Red Army, to move and spread the revolution into Eastern Europe, which is as far at that time as the Soviet state itself could do that. So the occupation of what we understand to be the occupation of Eastern Europe, um, by communists—is somewhat illegitimate. From the Soviet point of view it had an ideological legitimacy. Uh, although there was a two or three year period of hesitancy when they’re not quite sure how it worked because there was always that other dimension of how the West will react. I mean, they knew they were, they were operating and living in a multidimensional universe. So they had to take into account how the US and Western Europe would respond. But, but the ideological work was there in my opinion.
Mike 19:30 And so, so the, uh, so they had to, uh, in these years also then they had to construct the spread of communism to these countries. Now, communism didn’t spread—we’ll come to this in a moment, but communism didn’t just spread from the Red Army, it had other ways as well. But that was the important point, is how to incorporate these new countries into the, we, we used to say the Soviet empire, but they would talk about the, the camp of, of democracy, of people’s democracy of communism, and people’s democracy. Um, it becomes extremely complex. The motives that Stalin and the Russians have towards each of these countries is obviously different. So, for example, uh, the Baltic countries—Lithuania had never been independent until the Russian revolution there, there they had been part of, uh, of the Russian empire, at least since Peter the great in the 17th century, never independent before that, they had been baronies of German aristocracy. With the collapse of the Russian Empire, the Baltic States, along with some others for a shorter period of time, become so-called independent countries and their independence last until around 1940 for 20 years or less until the Soviet Union, in my opinion, at least very well aware of the threat that Germany is going to pose, the Soviet Union marches into these countries and takes them over, uh, because they represent a very great danger to Soviet security in the face of what they think might come out of Germany.
Mike 21:25 So after the war here, they’re now in occupation of, as we would say, but the, they have to absorb these countries and they did not have different policies in these areas. I remember for example, that in Estonia at the University of Dorpat, so-called, um, things were very much freer than they were in, in universities than inside the Soviet Union itself. In other words, there were things that you could study and say in Estonia that you couldn’t study and say in Leningrad a few hundred miles away. Uh, so they were still different, but that, that itself was part of the problem, part of this question, uh, of absorption.
Mike 22:12 So we get developed by the time Stalin dies in 1953 in the West, we have this image of a monolithic Soviet state. Now I have to here add one very important point which is relevant to the subject that we really are trying to think about which is democratic socialism. In the process of developing the Soviets create a world of words, a universe of words, of terms, of logics, of argumentation. Uh, in other words, what we call ideology and the significant terms in this ideology are the words socialist and communist. And although when we get to that point, I will return to this subject again for the probably the third time and make clear that there’s a world of difference between communist and socialist. The Soviets call themselves socialist and they adapted, adopted and adapted the um, even the facial representations of Marx and Engels as, uh, symbols as Soviet symbols of power. Uh, you, you very often would see a kind of emblems of marks, angles, Lenin and Stalin like shields or badges, all four badges. People would wear these things and so forth and so on. Uh, but there was a huge difference between Marx and Lenin. Huge difference. And I want to come back to that and start talking about those things.
Mike 24:00 It’s important for us today in the 21st century to make these distinctions not to fall victim to the Soviet insistence that they’re the same thing or simply stages in the same process. So we shouldn’t accept the Soviet position. Uh, it’s ironic that the anticommunist Americans accepted the Soviet position by using interchangeably the words socialist and communist. Trump uses, does that even now. Well that’s, you know, along with many other things that Trump does—that’s doing the Russians’ work for them because these are different terms and, and we need to distinguish them in order to understand what really went on and should be going on. Uh, and not to accept their ideological definitions, which is what the, um, what calling those two terms the same as—equivalence means. Okay.
Mike 25:02 Western Europe, the Middle West, for want of a better term—if anyone comes up with a better term, let us know—uh, also faced problems that were different from either the West or the East at this particular time. First of all, they also faced the problem of reconstruction. Reconstruction was to some extent physical. There’s no question that the great cities of the continent had suffered severely in the war, uh, in Western and central Europe, far more from American and British bombing than from Soviet attacks. Uh, I mean, these were, these cities were either in Germany or they were in France, in low countries. And were, were the headquarters of German political and military power in these countries and we bombed them. Uh, to some extent tried not to. There was always a debate in the West, uh, should we bomb Rome or not, for example. And of course the decision was made not to bomb Rome, but nonetheless there was a lot of destruction and that needed reconstruction.
Mike 26:16 The economy needed reconstruction. So we step in with, with, with the Marshall plan, which ties Western Europe politically to the US but also creates a certain suspicion in Europe towards the US because it is probably the case that the US acted out of a tremendous amount of goodwill, although an argument can be made quite obviously, that it was in America’s interest to rebuild Europe and to get Europe on its own feet so we wouldn’t have to be occupying and supporting it forever. But nonetheless, this was an, a massive economic input, uh, which is kind of remarkable in human history where one country undertakes the primary economic responsibility for rebuilding another. But that made a lot of Europeans suspicious because they also understood that there was that other side that America was going to then purchase for itself and advantage in, in, in Europe, but hadn’t had before and would curtail the independence of action of Europe.
Mike 27:25 And if you look at what happens in Europe from that period on many of the institutions of your, say for example, NATO, uh, everybody understood NATO was very important to protect Western Europe and the US against the possibility of Soviet military challenges. But nonetheless, membership in NATO was problematic for, for some of these countries who haven’t come out from the Nazi conquest, wanted to reestablish their independence and didn’t want to become now the victims of American power. So there was a, there was a tendency in the West to try to think independently and that really, uh, characterizes an awful lot of Western European thought political thought, uh, down through the 1970s. It’s only in the 1970s maybe that, that the situation changes and we’ll come to that. But, but in these early years after World War II, uh, there was this tendency to try to define a European… even lower than that, to define various national positions, uh, vis-a-vis the US uh. A second problem in Europe was the question of finding an alternative means of governance to fascism.
Mike 28:47 Now, what we forget—again, because we don’t study history—is that fascism was far more widespread in Europe then we now give credit for. That fascism than was not necessarily German or even Italian. Fascism—the first country to be openly fascist in Europe was Hungary in 1924. Uh, Romania has a very strong fascist movement which was often in power. Norway, had a strong fascist movement in spite of, you know… we, we, we, I personally, for example, you know, think Norway is a glorious story, but there was a strong local, fascist movement. Sweden, the, the, the standard bearer of contemporary social democracy, um, had a strong fascist movement, never in power, but nonetheless, very right-wing, strong movement and all of these. So then she started—in France, very strong. Spain had fallen to fascism in the civil war in 1936 to ‘39 with the victory of Franco, which was openly a fascist state.
Mike 30:00 Portugal was a fascist state. Italy of course, had gone fascist in 1922. So there’s a huge amount of fascism already there after World War II. The question is how to reconstruct these states. What are we, how do we move forward? Now that problem is further complicated by the fact that the backbone of resistance to German occupation all over Western Europe, uh, not so much in Northern Europe, which had a more nationalist backbone, but in France and in, um, in Greece for example… to places where the occupation was very severe. Um, there was a, um, very, very active militant resistance to the German occupation, very much centered on the communists and the socialists on the left. Um, one of the reasons may well be that the communists were well organized hierarchically as a party to begin with and therefore naturally had a, um, a way of resisting.
Mike 31:14 Of course, it’s true that they were also motivated to be antifascists. They were, they were anti-fascist until 1939 when Stalin makes his pact with Hitler to, some of us think, to delay the possibility of a German attack. Then when the Germans attack, all of a sudden the party again goes back to being anti-fascist. So they were very wedded to the Soviet position. People said they were instruments of Soviet foreign policy. That’s an exaggeration. But nonetheless, there’s an element of truth there. So, uh, they naturally were, were ordered by Moscow is what the Americans would’ve said to be [true]. But uh, so, so you had the left comes out of the Second World War in Western Europe. Very strong, very influential, not strong, but very influential. And of course it is opposed in each country by more traditional, non-fascist or antifascist groups. So that in um, Italy you had the Catholic Church opposing the left… there’s a long history after the war of the parallelism between the Catholic Church and the communist party in Italy, the Christian Democratic Party in Italy, which the party of the church eventually wins with US support.
Mike 32:43 The US intervenes in the 1948 election in Italy to make sure that they win and they get the Pope to announce it. Anybody who wants communism is ipso facto going to be ex-communicated but nonetheless has even an institutional parallelism. The church had its parishes and its parish priests and the, and the party has it, had its people’s houses, the casas de la gente, and local party officials. And it’s really quite a remarkable story to see how they did a deal in France who had the goal, uh, who comes in as the major, uh, power, political power, uh, but always at the sufferance of, or with the cooperation of, the quiet cooperation of the left, um, did all of the towering figure. And I don’t think the communists could overcome that personality, but they nonetheless are, uh, are not insignificant.
Mike 33:39 In France it also is even further complicated by the fact that a healthy proportion of French men either collaborated or were silent during the Second World War so that, uh—all these things, they have to deal with this. These countries have to deal with really serious issues, what to do with the left. How to re, how to reestablish their own governance, what to do with collaborationists during the who survived the war and so forth and so on. So the rejection of fascism is a very important problem. Uh, what direction they should take in the future becomes, uh, a major issue. And, and all the Western, the Middle Western countries, uh, face the same set of issues. In addition to the ones I’ve mentioned, there’s always the question of how do we prevent the possibility of a further or another rise of Germany?
Mike 34:39 How do we construct an international or, or European-wide political framework that will incorporate Germany and limit its ability to challenge us again? And, and of course, the latest form of that is that the European Union, uh, in which again, ironically, Germany may be the chief economic power, but it’s a radically different Germany from the Germany of 1945 radically different, uh, but these institutions which begin to develop in the late forties, and ended up today with the, with the European union, uh, all a consequence of this search for a modus vivendi for the quote “Middle West” unquote, uh, after the, uh, the Second World War for finding ways to resolve conflicts between each other, for mutual defense against the Soviet Union, and so forth and so on. So, so Western Europe is an area—and in that area, this is how the—the point I, I’m leading to—in that area, the intellectual, political, ideological discourse was very different from that that took place in North America.
Mike 36:00 This, the discourse in North America was about capitalism, consumerism—that incredible transformation of American society that takes place after World War II as a result of the sudden, uh, of the fact that we had devoted our productive capacities to the war effort during the war. And then there’s a great need for consumer goods. A tremendous amount of innovation had taken place during the Second World War, and a huge amount of capital was available for investment because it hadn’t been spent, you know, people worked and put money in their bank accounts. They didn’t, they had nothing to spend it on. Things were rationed. So there was a kind of explosion of a consumer economy in America. There’s a very wonderful book called The Consumer Republic, which is to say that what was the American Republic now changes and becomes the consumer republic after World War II. And that consumerism lasts until the 1970s. Our concern was capitalism. It was a successful capitalism. Western Europe was a little worried about America. They were worried about the Soviet Union. They had a long and historic tradition of, of European socialism, of a democratic socialist—of democratic socialist parties, democratic socialist thinking, government and so forth. Um, a lot of that was very active during the resistance in World War II. So their intellectual discourse was never the intellectual discourse of America. That isn’t to say there weren’t some Frenchmen, French writers who thought that America was the cat’s meow. There are also some who thought the cat’s meow was Russia, but by and large the structure of discourse was different from that of either Russia or the United States. Uh, okay.
Mike 37:55 Then to go on, there’s the third world, what we now call the third world, or what we used to call the third world. Today, we call it the developing world. We find all kinds of… but in those days, the first world was the United States, second world was Russia and the third world was all the others. And all the others… by the way, curiously in, in my opinion also shows—this idea of all the others shows the influence of Marx ultimately in our thinking. In Marx’s view of history, Marxist thought, you have stages of history through which the human race passes. Hunters and gatherers. You know, when we, there was no government, there was no state, lots of fish in the rivers and berries on the trees or wherever the berries were. I don’t know. I’m not an editor. Then you get the empires and slave society like Rome, and then you get feudalism, then you get capitalism, and then you get socialism, about which Marx says very little and communism about which he says almost nothing. Well, we’ll turn to all of that later. Uh, but then he confronted the world. Marx was an empiricist and he confronted the world. And he’s sitting there in London and all the news is coming in from India and from China and he’s, he’s, uh, he’s working as a journalist, writing for a New York newspaper called the New York Tribune ancestor to the Herald Tribune. And he’s got to explain these societies—and they don’t fit into his categories that he’s observed from Western Europe. So he lumps them all together and called it the ‘Asiatic mode of production.’ China, India, South America, and even ancient Greece. And this is a kind of catchall for everything, despite all the differences, right?
Mike 40:01 Certainly Latin America is nothing like India or China. The only characteristic they all have in common is they’re not as developed—whatever development may mean as Western Europe, they didn’t go through the same stages of historic development as the Western Europe did. Our talking about the third world, the underdeveloped world is simply copying Marx’s idea of all these societies. I don’t know how to deal with them. So we lump them all together, right? And we use the economic benchmark to decide who’s developed and isn’t developed. So they all fall into underdeveloped status. And then the same way Marx used the fact that they didn’t fit the benchmarks of his historical periods. So he cast them all together. That’s a very curious way in which our thinking is not very far from the thinking of the great Karl. All right. So we’ve got the third world, and the third world all during the, up until the Second World War, of course, the third world was primarily seen as an area for the spread of capitalism.
Mike 41:08 Even Karl Marx thought that capitalism was a wonderful thing. He thought imperialism was spreading progress and modernity to the rest of the world. And he was not at all upset by the fact that the capitalism and imperialism would change for the better the lives of the people in what he understood as that other world, uh, out there. Um, and, but the Second World War changed all of that and it did it, I think in the falling away, number one… in the course of the period of the late 19th century, and certainly in the 20th century, the imperial powers, whether they were directly in control of territory, the way the British were in control of about half of India, the other half was under British control, but not directly—or under the overbearing influence of the US the way Mexico and a lot of Latin America was. Or China, which was, was under the very powerful influence of the European powers in the United States, though never conquered by them.
Mike 42:19 During this period an elite is educated under the specific circumstances in each country, but an elite who take their cues from the West. And this is almost a, a, um, you could almost think that it was a conscious way of training. And in some certain, in some circumstances it was a conscious way of training an elite to serve Western interests in these countries during the colonial period. Now it took different forms and in some places its very absence was meaningful. So certainly, for example, the British in India train an elite who will serve the British empire. The US starts bringing Chinese students to the US to study already in 1900, 1905, very, very self-consciously after the, um, after the war of 1900 in China. The, um, the French who see their position in the world as one of—saw their position in the world as the carrier, as the carrier of civilization to the uncivilized, um, evolved. And, and, and, and you use that term here as a, uh, a term with an a with an object. They evolved certain individuals in groups in their colonies to be French men. The first speaker of the French national assembly after World War II was a, um, it was an African. He’ll go on to become the president of his country when he gets independence from France. Uh, the Belgians in the Belgian Congo did the opposite. They purposely denied higher education to their, to their people, which is one of the reasons why, uh, the, the former Congo has had so much leadership problems and its history. So, um, I think that the, third world ends up at the end of the Second World War very much wanting to see the reality of the values that the West claimed it was fighting for and began demanding independence and freedom from the West, the right to run their own economies, et cetera, et cetera. Uh, very much impelled by the fact that the West had, that was what the West was fighting for. And the, the elite in the non-West understood that perfectly well and equally understandably applied it to themselves.
Mike 45:11 India is a very interesting case in point because the demand for independence of India from Britain really becomes strong in the Second World War and after. Before that they want self-rule. They want internal independence, but they’re not demanding to be an independent country quite the same way. But in the Second World War for example, in India you had a strong, not very powerful but a strong fascist movement. You have the Indian National Army which fought for Japan. They saw the rise of Japan in Asia as a good sign. That meant that they were going to liberate, you know, liberate Asia from Americans and from their visions. But all of this comes to a head in the years, immediately after the Second World War, all over the third world. In China, which had never been conquered. Huge empire. It had been certainly the political colony, not the governmental colony, but the political colony and economic colony of the West, as chairman Mao used to say it was a semi-colonial society, um, you have had since the middle of the 19th century and ongoing decline of the Imperial state. It eventually falls to pieces and is replaced by a kind of chaotic Republican society in the 1911, Revolution of 1911 years after that, after that, no central authority ever succeeds until after World War II in asserting its control over all a Chinese society.
Mike 46:59 The, uh, the contender for power in China, uh, in the 30s, the primary contender for power in China, contending for power against the government of Chiang Kai-shek, which was a government that was generally recognized by the Europeans and the Americans, was the communist party. It was a communist party that was not necessarily an offshoot of—in fact that it wasn’t an offshoot of the West. It was a native grown communist party as it were, rose out of Chinese conditions, Chinese history. Um, it’s questionable whether Mao himself had ever even read Karl Marx. There’s the interesting story, maybe true or not, but there’s an interesting story told that one of the great journalists who goes to interview chairman Mao when he’s living in a cave up in Yan’an after the long March—the Chinese party ends up in Northwest China, living in caves in a, in a certain area and he goes to interview him, Edgar Snow.
Mike 48:02 And um, and the, his book Red Star Over China is a kind of, um, ghosted autobiography of Mao, something along that line, maybe. A very, very wonderful book about China in that period. So the story goes, he saw on the bookshelf in Mao’s cave, some collected works of Karl Marx says, “Oh, you’ve been reading Marx.” And Mao was supposed to have said, “no, no, I haven’t been reading. I’ve been too busy making the revolution to read about it.” And true or not the story says a great deal, uh, about the, um, about the, about communism in China. As a result of this, titanic civil war between the, the communists who are not really supported by the Soviet Union until they come to power. And the Chiang Kai-Shek government, which is supported by the West, half-heartedly, but supported by the West. Um, in 1949 and October 1st the Chinese communists declare victory and take over the country.
Mike 49:12 Uh, they then begin to develop a relationship with the Soviet Union, which the West saw in all of those years as a, an alliance, but which was a very troubled alliance. At any moment, had nothing in common, really with say the relationship between the US and Western Europe. Um, we gave a lot of aid to us in Europe. The Russians never gave aid to China. They gave loans to China, that kind of thing, which is very significant and very different. Um, nonetheless, China—and in the years, right after the victory in the civil war, that’s in the months right out there, the Chinese were not unwilling to be friends with the US by the way, it was the US that rejects China rather than vice versa. Uh, the Chinese made a couple of very minor errors, which the US blew up to be major errors. Uh, we probably did not have enough intellectually trained or sensitive China specialists in the late ‘40s to understand what the problems that Russia and China faced were.
Mike 50:15 So they could not be friends, but we forced them into a kind of friendship. The world would’ve been very differently if we had been, uh, better trained. So communism spreads to China and that, that fact, the victory of the Chinese Revolution more than being a communist revolution, is victory as a nationalist revolution inspired people in many, many parts of the world, including Europe. The fact that a huge nation could throw off the imperialists’ and capitalists’ yoke, so to speak. Today when we look at China’s as quickly becoming capitalist, we forget the heroic quality of the period of the 1950s, uh, the Chinese were going to remake the world. Uh, remake their world, reinstitutionalize themselves very differently then in the West, we have to remember that, uh, medical care problem. Well, they didn’t have enough doctors the way we don’t have enough doctors.
Mike 51:16 What are they going to do? They’re going to train people that, so-called barefoot doctors. And the barefoot doctors experiment is worldwide-known. It becomes very famous and many parts of the world began to copy it. We can train average people to give ordinary medical relief to be, well, you don’t have to have a doctor’s degree from Stanford Medical School to give somebody aspirin, right? That kind of thing. So that becomes very important. The third world also becomes an area, uh, in this period of US-Soviet competition. Uh, we’re very worried about the way in which these countries in Africa, which are demanding their independence, which way will they go? We want them on our side, of course, and we do all kinds of things to make them be on our side. And the Russians are also competing with us in all of these places.
Mike 52:08 And a lot of what the Cold War was, we see, of course, because of our orientation—primarily as a European problem. But in fact, if you look at Africa, the Cold War is carried out all over Africa in the competition between us and the Soviets for influence and power. All the while in each of these countries local elites, local power centers are also battling for power. Right? I think one of the most interesting examples of this is South Africa. Uh, so you know, here you have South Africa, which increasingly after the Second World War becomes this apartheid state and becomes itself, I think a lot of us would think of it as a kind of fascism, racist fascism, right? You get the development of the anti-apartheid movement. The West isn’t quite sure how to deal with it. It becomes quite popular because one hears the echoes of that in the civil rights movement in America.
Mike 53:08 So it has a certain cachet among intellectuals and certain other groups, but big business and governments are not quite sure how to choose between the Afrikaner state in South Africa and the anti-apartheid movement and the leadership of the anti-apartheid movement is very left wing, very left wing. Uh, we, we sometimes forgot that in our enthusiasm, as we forget that Martin Luther King was very left. Today in fact, we’ve, cleansed him to some extent in the popular imagination of, of what he really was, which was, uh, was, was a socialist. Um, and then immediately after apartheid falls and, and Mandela comes to power, within a very short period of time, the West moves in and South African leadership abandons its left wing commitments and become members of the capitalist world. And after that begins to fall apart because capitalism is unstable and does not provide a steady stream of, of support and so forth, the Chinese move in. So today, China’s main—China is South Africa’s primary, um, source of investment and primary trading partner. I mean, in 50, 60, short years, that that little story of South Africa shows all the things that we had been talking about.
Mike 54:41 The third world then also requires finding ways to govern themselves. Um, and, and, and there are, it today provides, in my opinion, a repository of very interesting experiments in this regard. Costa Rica, for example, which has a kind of social democratic revolution in 1948—a little country in central America, disbands its army and for several decades pursues quite seriously the project of becoming a social democratic society. Um, in other, other parts of Latin America, always independent countries or not all, but mostly independent countries, the US is afraid they’ll go to the left—we collaborate with the military often very harshly, one thinks of Chile, one thinks of Brazil, because we, we saw it in terms of communism versus democracy. And for us, democracy meant pro-America. It didn’t have anything to do with democracy per se. It meant pro-American so that the, the Latin America, third-world, Latin America becomes a battleground for this struggle between East and West, between the Soviet Union and the United States.
Mike 55:59 And now we’re confronted when we say, look at Mexico, I find Mexico today to be incredibly interesting because we witness some—the disintegration of Western political institutions. The state is disintegrating in Mexico in front of our very eyes, and it’s being replaced by the so-called cartels. It’s a different form of governance. Harsh, right? But they’re competing with the state! And the state itself is being reduced in a kind of, to being a participant in a struggle among many different kinds of power centers in a weaponized political contest. We haven’t seen that kind of thing in the world, I don’t think ever—because these cartels have no, um, political depth. They don’t have any ideology, right? They’re strictly economic institutions. They do represent and, and, and I think this is a very interesting point worth thinking about as we go on. The cartels represent, um, the ultimate economization of politics. It’s all about making profit, period. And human welfare, stability, those are all secondary considerations as long as the corporation makes profit. And a cartel is a corporation the same way that General Motors is a corporation, one—it supports itself with an order of legitimacy. And the other says power is all that really exists. So all of these, these various tendencies seem to come together as we look at the world, uh, after the Second World War.
Greg 57:55 Yeah. Well, so we’ve been going for about our usual time. Uh, but I think we’re perfectly poised now to, I mean the way I look at what we’ve been doing the past two podcasts is you, you’ve given us a truly rich description of what was happening, which then gets dumbed down in its legacy. And, and I believe that’s where we want to turn next. Right? So in our next podcast we can talk about, um, the impact of that Cold War period on how we think now—
Mike 58:38 On how we think today and on our, what we think about the social sciences and humanities and how we think of the illogical—yes. That’s our next subject.
Greg 58:46 Okay. Thanks big Mike. We’ll see you all back here in the next podcast. Thanks for listening to another episode of A Shareable World. To find out more about this podcast, visit us at ashareableworld.com.