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 All right. Welcome back everybody to A Shareable World, the history, theory and practice of democratic socialism with big Mike. Good morning. So the topic has been—well we’ve been leading up to the Cold War generally and with an eye on kind of what, what the legacy of the Cold War has left us. And especially thinking, uh, strategically on the left. But I think, yeah, so where are we going to start? We still have the Cold War itself. Yeah.
Mike 01:01 I want to concentrate on the Cold War. You know, it’s really very interesting that here we are, the, uh, end of the second decade of the 21st century, I guess it is. And the Cold War is only 50, 60 years ago, and it’s almost completely forgotten from our consciousness. Uh, that’s partly due to the fall of the Soviet Union and the universal victory of capitalism or so they tell us. But the fact that an event which so consumed everything for so long could be so quickly forgotten, says a great deal about our attitude toward history. And of course because—the Cold War really was at the root of the way we think today. We’re still living in the trail of the comment of the Cold War to use some hyperbole. Um, we really need to revive the history of it. We need to remember all of these things. So I want to remember today some of these things. And, and so go back to basics.
Mike 02:15 So at the end of the Second World War, and we’ve, we ended up at this point, I think last time, at the end of the Second World War, the world could be divided up into what I now think of as four different zones. And by that I don’t mean just geographical zones, I also mean political, ideological, et cetera. And for our discussion, I would define those zones. Something like the following, first of all, there was the West, uh, we talk about the West incessantly, that seems to be a, a fixed star in the firmament of our intellectual lives. But what the West really meant in the Cold War was primarily North America. And even more specifically, it meant primarily the United States. Um, the United States stood there, very large, very powerful at the end of the Second World War: militarily powerful, economically powerful, but very distinctive. Uh, even in the North American continent, I would argue distinctive from Canada to our North and Mexico to our South in terms of our positioning ourselves and in terms of our thinking about the world system as it existed at the end of the war, the great enemy of the West, if I defined it just [the] way I did now was the East of course.
Mike 03:44 But the East in this case really meant the Soviet Union. And as time went on, it’s what we called the satellite countries of the Soviet Union. No, that word East of course, extended geographically all the way to deep Asia. Because the first satellite country of the Soviet Union was Mongolia, which is—it turns communist already in 1921. People seem to forget that the, the communist party takes over Mongolia only a few years after the Russian revolution in 1921, and this was a Mongol communist party coming out of Siberia, not the Russians marching in and occupying. Yeah. And then of course, immediately after the Second World War, socialism is spread to Eastern Europe very much on the backs of the soldiers of the Red Army. And, uh, not out of line with the idea of the permanent revolution that Trotsky had, except that of course this was done militarily rather than as a popular revolution, but nonetheless, the spread of socialism.
Mike 04:58 So that’s the East. Then there was an area which we don’t really define very well with a word, but which existed quite independently. And I was, I sort of thought we should call it the middle West, uh, by which I’m referring to Western Europe, Northern Europe, Great Britain. These are areas in which very different social processes and very different economic solutions to what was going on in North America were being found in the years very immediately after the war. But, which for one reason or another, which we’ll talk about, ally themselves with the West, with the United States. Uh, as we said last time, the, the first indication of that, that this was the middle West rather than, or the Midwest rather than the, the West as such was the election in 1945 at the end of the Second World War in which Churchill and the conservatives are thrown out in the labor party, the socialist party is elected to power.
Mike 06:07 That could never have happened in the United States, partly because we didn’t have a socialist party of such proportions, but also because the political temper of the times in America, uh, was radically different from that in Britain or any in Western Europe. Most of the governments of Western and Northern Europe were either socialists or had socialist party participation when the war came to an end. We forget. We really do forget that the backbone of resistance to the Nazis on the continent of Europe, in France, in the low countries, uh, was the communist party and the socialist parties. Uh, there was a huge amount of collaboration in the center and the right and the resistance really was on the left. And that resistance—which we used! America depended very much on that resistance to, to weaken the German position on the continent, particularly in light of the fact that we knew we were going to have to invade and actually conduct warfare on the European continent. So we had to, we had to define them in a way they were acceptable to us. This was the era in which the Soviet Union… and we were allied so it was okay to talk about the resistance without referring to them as left, but in fact they were left and that was the basis on which they entered into governments and began to guide social and economic policy along different paths than was being followed in the United States.
Mike 07:41 Then there was one other group, that’s what we used to call in those days, the third world. I suppose the, the first world was the US and the advanced industrial societies. The second world was a Soviet Union and it’s, uh, it’s, uh, satellites, and the third world was everything else. The developing world. I mean, the developing world was very large. It included all of Latin America, south of the Rio Grande. It included all of Africa, the middle East, all of Asia. Um, and the third world faced radically different problems than the first or second, than the West, the Midwest and the East. First of all, a huge proportion of it had been colonized by America and the Western European powers. And after this, after fascism is defeated in the Second World War, they want their independence in the, and the decade of the ‘50s and on into the ‘60s… This is particularly the case in Africa, and in, uh, in Asia.
Mike 08:51 Uh, they wanted their independence. And, and that independence, uh, was in many areas—such as Algeria, uh, for example, uh, Vietnam and so forth. It resulted in real warfare, the desire for independence. And in those areas that were legally independent, like most of Latin America, uh, you had still, um, economic imperialism that they were trying to shake off. They wanted independence of their very economies and societies as well as a more narrowly defined political independence, international law. And then of course there’s China, which was always independent but stood up as, as chairman Mao said… October 1st, 1949. That’s only three to four years after the Second World War. It’s very hard for us not to realize these portentous events, portentous events that took place so quickly when the Chinese through the West threw capitalism out and as Chairman Mao said, from the gate of heavenly peace, China stood up and has been standing taller and taller ever since.
Mike 10:06 Right? Um, there was India which achieved its independence relatively peacefully until they got independence and then all hell broke loose with the Partition, but, and it was terribly violent. But nonetheless, these, there’s this whole region, huge swath of the world, uh, constituted an area that recognized among themselves, uh, a common, uh, circumstance which they had been victimized one way or the other by the West in their eyes. Uh, it should be pointed out that in the ensuing years, this third world decided to—well, a consequence of the division of the world in these terms is of course that a Cold War developed. Churchill in Fulton, Missouri in 1946 gives a speech in which he says an Iron Curtain has fallen across Europe. So that’s a recognition of the state of affairs, of the relationship between the capitalist or semi-capitalist West and Midwest and the communist East.
Mike 11:22 But one of the most important battlegrounds in the West vs. East competition was the third world. Throughout the third world the, um, there was tremendous competition for who was going to beat out the other. One looks at South Africa, for instance, which remains a kind of independent, racist, imperialist society, uh, until the 1990s. But in it, the opposition, the anti-apartheid movement was led primarily by people who identified themselves as communists or as left-wing socialists. Um, and, uh, the leadership—which the world idolized, without reference to their party membership—the leadership of the anti-apartheid movement among themselves and among the cognoscenti on the left knew who they were, and they were very far to the left. So that’s, that’s a good example. Then of course, finally you had Germany and Japan, which were occupied, but which really were part of the West, even Japan, uh, out there in the far East having been on the wrong side of the Second World War.
Mike 12:40 Um, but it was an advanced industrial society—uh, perhaps somewhat ambiguous. We weren’t quite sure what to make of it, but, um, American policy towards Germany and Japan was a wise policy of course, in the long run, namely that we didn’t want to make permanent enemies of them. We had, we realized what happened in Europe after the First World War where a bad settlement with Germany led to fascism. So we conducted a relatively positive policy towards Germany. So they emerged from the Second World War and the reconstruction after the Second World War as allies of the, uh, and very important allies of the West rather than the opposition. But there was a period, especially in Japan in the mid, late 1940s when the left was very strong in Japan. So that was, that’s the kind of geographical spread of the situation. The competition between the, between the, um, the West (mainly the United States) and the East (the Soviet Union) and its satellites in the Midwest in Western and Northern Europe.
Mike 13:59 And throughout the third world was a very complex competition that took place in many registers simultaneously. I want to mention what those are, so we keep them in mind. One was a, honestly, it was a competition for power. In other words, this was not an ideological competition of intelligent journalists, you know, hurling imprecations that each other in their, in their various newspapers. This was really, it was about power. And the result of that was the, uh, the arming of the world, uh, with the new technology that in those day—now that technology is almost primitive, right? The atomic bombs and missiles that both the Soviet Union, United States, you know, in, in our age of electronic warfare, that all has a, it’s not quite spear and shield, but it’s certainly not the sophisticated kind of warfare we face today. Again, how shocking the difference between that—you know a generation or two generations ago and today, we have radically changed our warfare… but so there was a competition for power, but the competition for power was accompanied by a deep competition in other areas as well.
Mike 15:15 One was ideology. And by ideology we mean the, the, the view of the world from which specific policies are derived. Uh, the difference between a world in which the free market is seen as a natural phenomenon operating according to its own rules, uh, and a world in which regardless of what one thinks about the reality of the Soviet Union, a world in which the economy was understood to be the livelihood of the people. And to be managed in their interests. Now, there’s no question. Nobody in his or her right mind would question the fact that the Soviet Union failed, and it certainly failed economically, and that it was a, uh, a pretty horrible experience. But ideologically, they did argue and ideologically, many people outside of the Soviet Union believed that that was a reasonable alternative to the free market, namely a controlled market or no market at all.
Mike 16:24 A completely state organized economy working for the interests of the people supposedly. So from those two radically different perceptions of the nature of the socioeconomic world, we inhabit derived lots of different policies of course. So I want to use the word ideology to refer to those, that constellation of assumptions about the way the world is. These are policy. Then there was of course, competition for economic power. You had to have economic power to sustain military power. One of the things that probably cripples the Soviet Union is the fact that their economy was not developing as well as it should have in their own eyes, but they had to compete militarily with us because military powers, after all, spoke the last word, so that—whereas the US could afford and even benefit from the arms industry, the Soviet Union, with its own arms industry, really had to sacrifice a certain amount of economic growth in order to sustain the, uh, the competition for military power.
Mike 17:36 And of course, the, the, uh, the interesting thing for us now to note is that the struggle in the third world—and the, and the best example of this is both China and Vietnam—was a struggle that was carried out militarily, but with technology far more primitive than that of the first and second world. You know, we have forgotten that the Vietnam War really was fought by peasants with, with weapons that were relatively primitive compared with the airplanes and the other weapons that the US and France could wield in, in, in, uh, in Vietnam. And that the Chinese Revolution, which was a massive civil war, uh, was fought by armies that, uh, on the one hand were largely self-armed out of the materials available to them in a developing society. And on the other hand an army that kept being supported and armed by the US albeit such a corrupt army that it consumed, uh, the donations of the US in the wrong way.
Mike 18:49 So technology was not necessarily going to win everything and technology was useful between powers that shared an equal level of technology more or less. But the irony of it all is that a more primitive technological society—China, Vietnam—was able to throw out the West in the end. And that’s a lesson that we need to, to think about. So there was the, the certainly the competition for economic power. That also meant a competition for political influence and that had to do very much with subjects that we today are concerned with. Who was going to dictate the results of the elections that—we have to understand, now, we’re not used to democratically choosing the successors to the Imperial powers, but rather they were rituals meant to legitimate the successors to Imperial power. But those, it was pretty important that the, that the elections be controlled by one side or the other, or influenced by one side or the other because it would determine who the inheritors of the previous colonial or Imperial powers were.
Mike 20:04 So political influence is becoming… And then the final area, and this is one which we have paid very little attention to, although it was very important at the time, was cultural competition, competition in literature and in the arts. And why was that important? Well, that was very important, first of all, because in all those societies, particularly outside the US, the intellectual played a very significant role, far more important than the intellectual was playing at the same time in America. The, um, in Western Europe, the line between the intellectual world and the political world often was nonexistent. In the third, it was nonexistent. And often it was the political leaders who were also the cultural leaders of the society. Those who wrote, uh, philosophized. And so forth. We forget, for example, that I’m the first speaker at the French national assembly after World War II was an African who then goes back to Africa and becomes president of his newly independent country. And he’s a great writer in, in French and in his country. So we today who kind of tend to push our intellectuals off to small literary magazines or to the ivory towers of the universities, uh, and have a deep suspicion of intellectuals in politics, you know, that kind of thing. But in those days, outside of the US West, um, intellectuals were very important in politics, so that became a crucial area of competition.
Mike 21:55 So I think those are the, uh, the, uh, the, uh, areas of competition that, that were very strong and that we need to keep in mind. One of the consequences of, um, the way in which we saw the world at the end of World War II, uh, is the way we did history in the—and in fact, in some way, some ways, the way we still do history. Our literature, our historical literature. And our critical literature, uh, critical literature about literature, um, catalogs and describes the, um, going back to the 19th of the post-World War I period, this kind of very glitzy, upper-class society. Um, and tends not to dwell on the lower classes, particularly on the workers.
Mike 23:04 Now, the exception to that is that there was a lot of literature after World War I, which came out of what today we would look at and say the degenerate, I think wonderfully degenerate, Berlin for example. World War I saw the real destruction of cultural constraints so that anything could go, anything went, anything did go on. I mean that was what Paul—they made Berlin a political disaster, but a cultural fantastic garden of delights. Right? I mean, you can’t imagine, I think, the way it was. In America, there were some writers who wrote about the lower classes. One thinks particularly for example of John Steinbeck, Theodore Dreiser, but one of the interesting things is the degree to which they have dropped out of the mainstream of our literary thought now. You know, we still think that The Great Gatsby is a great novel, but very few people talk about—we make movies of it. No one’s making movies today of the films of, uh, of the, of the novels of, uh, of um, John Steinbeck or, or Theodore Dreiser or John Dos Passos, who wrote the great USA volumes, uh—that literature that referred to the working classes has gone from our attention today and certainly did not play the role in our imagination in the 1930s that the other literature did.
Mike 24:51 So that the, so that there’s a, in addition to the background of the cultural and, and all the other forms of competition there are also develops very powerfully in the period before the, between the two Wars, a cultural distinction of class. And again, that’s becomes also very interesting for us because while class enters into literature and the arts and class analysis, one only needs to look at German art, the 1920s, to see to what extent, uh, the difference between the classes is refracted in painting and in films and so forth. Uh, in America, the whole idea of class, and we’ve talked about this before, the whole idea of class is kind of set aside, which we don’t want to engage in. This becomes very strong after the Second World War. We don’t want to engage in conversation about class. So we find all kinds of ways around it.
Mike 25:48 I would argue that in the, in, in the, in those days after World War II, we started talking about strata, income strata, income groups, things like that. Now we talk about identity groups and these are all ways to get around the conversation about class and class conflict. So I think that’s, that’s a very important. Furthermore, gangsters play their role, which we have criminalized them. And, and I want to say that in a very provocative way. Um, the growth of the mafia, we, we understand it in the US very much as a product of immigration, but actually there’s, there is serious thought, a serious school of thought that I find not unattractive, the spokesman for which to a certain extent was, was Eric Hobsbawm, the perhaps greatest English historian of the late 20th century. Uh, and that is that the mafia was a, was a form of social revolt that, uh, you know… we think of the mafia in America as criminals, but maybe they were social revolutionaries.
Mike 27:05 The, the parallel is drawn that if you look back at the history of criminal organizations in the period just before World War I, but certainly during the period between the two world wars, uh, they were, you might think of them as shadow governments. Um, they collected protection. If you didn’t pay protection, you were, um, subject to punishment. Protection and taxes were the same thing under a different name. Um, they had police forces, they had their, the guys who were sent out to collect the taxes and punish you if you didn’t. Just the way—the difference between the government and the mafia was that the government claimed legitimacy and the mafia didn’t, but functionally from the point of view of the people, they were very much the same kind of thing. In film, one can find this very clearly depicted in a, in a film like M, the, the great German silent film of the early 1920s where the, uh, uh, if I remember correctly, uh, a, a, a girl, a little girl was kidnapped and it’s the criminals who get together and organize this, the police search for it and the, and the, and the, the, um, judicial process whereby the kidnapper once found—the child is murdered, right? The kidnapper once found his tribe. Now, you know, the film as well as I do. I mean, that’s a perfect visualization of this idea that the, that the criminal world was itself a real world with values that were not too different from the legitimate world using techniques that were not too different from those of the legitimate world. So even there… and along with all of that, and here becomes the crucial moment, uh, about the background to world, to the Cold War. With all of that, and with the fact that there was a tremendous amount of ignoring of what was going on in the lower levels of society, so to speak, the most potent political force among the workers in some places, peasants as well ended up being the communists. Uh, not necessarily Soviet com—not Russian communists, not bomb carrying, bearded revolutionaries.
Mike 29:32 Uh, but ordinary workers who chose, um, one or another form of socialism, very often that kind of socialism allied with the Soviet Union, uh, over against capitalism as the dominant culture, organizational principle, et cetera of their societies. And they worked, I think yes, one could say they worked to undermine capitalist society. Um, Gatsby undoubtedly had his left-wing opponent working to organize the unions that worked in the factories, out of which he made money, right. Uh, but the, but by the end of the Second World War, given the fact that the left and on the continent of Europe had also been the backbone of the resistance… when the Cold War starts, we are in a situation in which the left is very powerful. Not a Soviet left, not, not what McCarthy and the others wanted to think of was spies, but a homegrown left, right and the native left, the left which had chosen otherwise than the dominant power that our countries wanted.
Mike 30:47 That leads then to, that’s a very, very important part in the, in the competition after the Second World War because that meant that the, the people wanting to fight the communists through this competition also had to attend to those groups within their own societies who were seen as subversive with regard to capitalism and the dominant ideology of the West. So there are many examples of that. And let me just give you two, one negative and one only halfway negative. The most negative one is McCarthyism in the US. Now, after the First World War as well, there was the Pinkerton men and there was the, the, the, um, the purge of anyone with sympathies that were seen to be out of line with capitalism. Uh, in the early 1920s after World II, McCarthyism developed very, very rapidly. By ‘49, 50 McCarthy is a power to be reckoned with.
Mike 31:49 Uh, he’s, uh, proceeding steadily through the state department and other institutions in the United States. Purging people that he, that he accused for whatever reason of being communists, the, uh, the hearings that were held are, are, are legendary. That was the, that was class warfare. Ideological warfare. That was the way in which in America we were trying to deal with those who opposed capitalism or whom we suspected of opposing capitalism. Most of them may not have. It decimated Hollywood. You know, it really took a tremendous toll in the cultural life of, uh, of the United States at the time. The other tactic that was very important in this competition was to try, particularly in Europe, to win over to the Western, those intellectuals, artists, writers, scientists, um, who are not 100% in the capitalist camp, but who were also anticommunist. That is, people who wanted a third way.
Mike 32:52 They, they, they really didn’t want capitalism. They didn’t want communism. They wanted a democratic system, what I would call a democratic socialist system. So you had to win them over by identifying in their minds, their values with American values. This was crucial and that was done in a variety of ways. Uh, intellectually, psychologically. I remember when I was in school, I may have even mentioned this before, the idea started being booted about of a people’s capitalism, people’s communism, people’s socialism, people’s democracy, people’s capitalism. Everybody was going to buy, every school kid was going to buy a share and we could watch the shares go up and down in American companies. Institutionally this process of trying to bring over to our side, the, that third group, that intermediate group of non-capitalist, non-communist, democratic socialist people, I would call democratic socialists, um, took place in the form of an organization called the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a fascinating organization.
Mike 34:05 Uh, years later, in the 1970s, it was discovered that indeed this organization had been conceived of and funded by the CIA as a major instrument in fighting the Cold War in this intermediate group in, in, uh, in Western Europe, but also in Africa and India where, you know—we forget that, that [Jawaharlal] Nehru, the first, and in my opinion, the greatest prime minister of independent India, uh, was himself a, an absolute socialist. He participated in International Socialist Party activities as early as 1929. Um, so that these people also, and in Africa, a lot of the, a lot of the leaders of the independence movement called, follow themselves as socialists. So these—not as communists, but as socialists. [Tanzanian politician Julius] Nyerere and so forth, not—they didn’t have very clear ideas, but they knew they rejected capitalism, which meant colonialism in the West. They didn’t want, necessarily, communism. We tried to win them over.
Mike 35:14 So the Congress for Cultural Freedom has its purpose to bring over this vast group of intellectual slash political leaders and make them think they were part of the Western, uh, battle array in the struggle with communism. This took a variety of very interesting forms. The organization was headquartered in Paris, of course, where any international organization in the intellectual world has to be headquartered. Uh, they published fantastic journals, one of the… [trails off] Intellectuals and political people, outside of the present leadership of United States, read. And uh, so they published magazines and uh, their, their English language magazine Encounter was one of the best and widely read, most widely read intellectual journals in English. Uh, in the fifties and sixties. Everybody published in it. Um, they published journals in French and Spanish and German and they publish the journal for scientists and, and all over the world. One in South Asia. They held conferences in congresses all over the world of writers and artists, scientists, all with the purpose of giving the, uh, bringing these people into the Western camp and keeping them out of the communist camp. There were some people who, uh, insisted perhaps obstinately in maintaining their independence like Olaf Palma, the eventual prime minister of Sweden, a great, great figure in the history of socialism.
Mike 36:58 Um, so that was a very interesting and very important institution which has now just in the last few years beginning to be discovered, rediscovered and studied. There are now some books coming out on it. I was in those days, uh, a young and very untried graduate student, but because of the field in which I specialized, I got invited from time to time to attend their conferences and I got to know these people. Now I lived in Paris and I got to know these people. I was intellectually probably the most exciting year you could be in, in the period of the 1960s, for example. So having said all of that, what, what, what, what, what was going on in this period and on each side. And I want to review that because I think again, this is important for our next discussion.
Mike 37:57 In the West, uh, by, at the end of the Second World War by the West—again
I mean the US—there was a very strong reassertion of capitalism. Now I say reassertion of capitalism. And the reason I say reassertion is because during the Second World War—US society for the few short years of the Second World War was radically changed. And so, um, there was indeed a spirit of voluntarism that went on. Um, the, the captains of industry were called to Washington, many of them. And they, and they were, they became known as dollar-a-year men. They, they, they took jobs in Washington for a $1 a year because they—the US law, you couldn’t work for the U S government if you didn’t get paid. So they would get paid $1 a year and they headed up the various industrial and military-industrial, uh, institutions and parts of the government that were necessary for the war effort. To all intents and purposes, the US during the Second World War was a state socialist institution.
Mike 39:11 Production was planned, consumption was controlled. We had ration cards. You could only get so much gas, buy so many clothes and so forth. The economy was taken over by the state. Um, so that immediately, the war was over, there was a reassertion of capitalist values with a vengeance. So that’s, that’s very important to keep in mind. Secondly, there was a suddenly a lot of money in America because during the Second World War, while they, while the men—in those days we did not have many women fighting—while the men were often in the army, that meant men who had been working in various industries are drafted to go off to the army. Their positions are taken by women. But there was nothing to spend money on. They got paid and often paid relatively high wages, but there was nothing to spend it on because of the control of the economy.
Mike 40:05 So we ended the war with a reassertion of capitalism, and at the same time, a tremendous amount of money in the society to spend, uh, it’s floating around there. The consequence of that was what we now call the consumer society. The consumer society was a, it was something that develops in America in 1950 and lasts pretty much through the mid-late 1970s as a society in which a rapidly expanding capitalist (as opposed to state-controlled) economy, fueled by a tremendous amount of money lying around in the society, which now suddenly can be used to buy products and get products to be, to be, uh, produced, uh, begins to take place. And it’s in that period that the standard of living moves very rapidly up. You know, the idea that you could—the idea of labor-saving devices, you know, the woman of the house (using the terminology and images of that period) didn’t have to go out and wash the clothes in a tub someplace you could get a washing machine to do the work for her and so forth and so on.
Mike 41:28 Refrigerators meant that you didn’t have to go shopping every day and the like, so that you get a society in which, uh, sort of the antiheroine is Mary Hartman. I don’t know if you remember Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, who can spend all of her days worrying about the yellow greasy spot on the floor that she can’t seem to get out, right? That’s the consumer society. Cause a society now is a memory because now we can no longer live at the level of our expectations of those days. There’s less money and so forth and so on. Um, in those days there was a more equal distribution of income than there is now. So we have to realize that this consumer society is not built into the history of the United States. It really develops at the end of the Second World War and that’s something very important to keep in mind.
Mike 42:16 Then there was this demand for democracy, the whole ideological thrust of American participation in the Second World War was the struggle against fascism and, and the Axis powers, right? Germany, Italy and Japan, the three, the three primary Axis powers. We identify them all as fascist and their allies, either real allies or simply sympathizers we also called fascist like Peroni in Argentina. We call it a fascist country, didn’t go to war with it, but we identified it as being fascist. This troops going overseas were imbued with the idea that they were struggling for democracy against fascism and they come home and they want democracy. They want, they want democracy in their workplaces. I grew up in Hollywood and right after the, the Second World War, the workers in the studios wanted more control. They wanted better wages. They wanted to live the kind of lives they had been taught they were fighting for.
Mike 43:24 And of course, the studio bosses were the opposite. And you got very quickly after the war, what was called the Hollywood strike, which lasts for 18 months in which everybody is involved. It was, by the way, the opening for television, because since drones were not being made as much in Hollywood with the closing down of the industry because of the strike that opened the way for, even though it was primitive in those days, that opened the way for television to be made and opened the way for New York to become once again, uh, an entertainment production center. Uh, but that strike was, was, uh, was a symbol of the conflict between the old order—which eventually wins we have to admit—the old order and the, the, uh, the left which, right? Which came back from the war in dealing with these values of democracy.
Mike 44:22 The great labor unions in America were often communist-controlled labor unions, not because they had seeped in illegitimately because they were the people leading the fight against the capitalists. Uh, so, uh, and if they weren’t controlled by the communists, they, they, they follow the communist line and became very powerful in and of themselves. That struggle in, in America between the capitalist class and what I would call today—looking back on that—the working class (it’s questionable whether we still have a working class, but we’ll come to that) [the struggle between the capitalists and] the, the working class was seen not only in Hollywood but also, for example, in the railway strike of 1947. One of the, uh, one of the, um… the railway strike. Very interesting phenomenon because in the, in the reestablishment of a rapidly growing economy after World War II, transportation is crucially important. Uh, we didn’t yet have the great container ships and we didn’t yet have transportation by airline, by airplanes.
Mike 45:39 The, the role of, of airplanes in our economy doesn’t really develop until the 1950s. It’s hard for us today to realize how recent in history all of these developments are. We take them, so for granted, but transportation, railway transportation was absolutely a crucial to the return to capitalism of the United States. And the, in ‘47, the railway, the unions go on strike. So Truman then has Congress pass a bill which very much restricts the right of the unions to strike. There were several provisions of this bill, the Taft-Hartley bill it was called, which were indicative of this one is that whereas before you had to be a member of a union to get a job called a closed shop, under the new bill, you had to, you got a job and then you could join the union. That’s a big difference, right?
Mike 46:34 The so-called right to work wasn’t about the right to work. It was about the, the, the um, right not to join the union. And that right not to join a union, which sounds liberal in some people’s ears, actually was an attack on the power of the working class to negotiate the conditions of work. And that’s very important for us now to think about. Um, and then it imposed a waiting period before you went on strike and all kinds of things. And that’s our, so that was a very important first blow against the left, against the, against the working class in America, in post-World War II. So that takes place. Then you’ve got McCarthy going after the political left or whoever he identifies as being political left. And you begin to realize how in the, let’s say the decade after 1945 down to 1955 or so, you get, even within the United States, this—Cold War which we think of only actually going on internally and going on very strongly. It affected—and we’ll come back to this later, I hope maybe in our next conversation—it affected the way we think, the way we, what we study. It still affects the way we study.
Greg 47:55 And so that’s the, uh, as you talked about at the beginning, each of these four areas having their own problems, uh, post-World War II and you know, attempting to come up with their own solutions, which we have to keep, uh, sorted out. So we’ve just worked through the West or mainly the US and we have the other three to consider. So, uh, perhaps we take a break here and then pick up with those three, uh, in our next podcast. Okay, great. Um, all right, thanks for, uh, joining us, everybody. And we hope you come back to here. The, uh, part two of the, our, our discussion of the Cold War. Thanks big Mike.
Greg 48:40 [Outro] Thanks for listening to another episode of A Shareable World. To find out more about this podcast, visit us at ashareableworld.com.