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Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

Thank Roosevelt

| 73 Comments

Here is a partial list of the major strikes that occurred in the US between 1931 and the 1936.

Harlan County Miners strike
The Bonus March
California pea pickers
Century Airlines
Tennessee Coal miners
Ford Hunger march
Briggs manufacturing
Detroit Tool & Die
Hormel strike in Iowa
New Mexico Miners
Cotton workers in Pixley
Imperial Valley farm workers
Electric Auto-lite
Rubber workers
Nonea Path
Textile workers
Minneapolis General Drivers Strike
San Fransisco General Strike
Metal workers
Southern Sharecroppers
Sit-down strikes in Flint, Atlanta and other places.

Of these, several things stand out: The Minneapolis and San Francisco strikes placed directly on the agenda the question of State Power, by shutting down those cities and putting control of the daily functioning in the hands of the workers for a short period.

The sit-down strikes posed the question of ownership of the factories by the simple expedient of occupying them.

The two questions: ownership of the factories, and state power, form the essence of the question of socialism.

The Minneapolis strike was led by Trotskyists of the Socialist Workers Party; other strikes were led by self-declared Communists.

Now, I suppose, from a distance of 80 years, an academic might make the case that socialist revolution was never really on the agenda; but that supposed academic would not be able to deny two things: Millions of workers thought it was, and the leading representatives of capitalism also thought it was. And, for the record, I think it was, too.

If you’re a capitalist, and socialist revolution is staring you in the face, you have a couple of choices: you can directly confront them and attempt to institute a fascist dictatorship, or you can attempt to buy them off—assuming you have something to buy them off with.

Which way would they go? Well, there were no shortage of charismatic fascist demagogues spouting populist antisemitic and racist filth. Father Coughlin comes to mind, and the Silver Legion of America. Pick one as a leader, go for direct confrontation and hope to hell the army was with them? Or try to buy off the working class with resources they didn’t actually have? For capitalism, that was the choice: Roosevelt, or Father Coughlin.

In the end, they chose to borrow against the future and try buying them off. In 1932, they had selected Roosevelt to run their system. As the militancy of the labor movement grew, the capitalists became more desperate, the workers more confident, reaching out to the unemployed, tearing down racial barriers even in the south through the Trade Union Unity League. It was a scary time to be a capitalist. The Communist Party, however, was now fully Stalinized and had become essentially an arm of Soviet Diplomacy. Stalin offered Roosevelt a simple deal: Recognize the USSR in exchange for the support of all of the Communist Party led unions, and the strong support the Communist Party had developed among the unemployed and among “Negroes” in the South, who they’d been organizing with some success.

The deal was made, the Communist Party became Roosevelt’s biggest fan, capitalism was preserved, and certain improvements were “given” to the working class, such as a minimum wage and official recognition of the right to organize for collective bargaining.

And capitalism continued. To this day, liberals look to Roosevelt as a great hero of America, which he certainly was, to capitalism. After all, look at all of the benefits given to the working class and the poor: social security, welfare, unemployment insurance.

Roosevelt did it. He saved capitalism. Because of him, private profit is still the guiding force behind every decision.

For every drone that kills an Afghan child, thank Roosevelt.
For every refugee fleeing American bombs, thank Roosevelt.
For every family driven from its home by unemployment, thank Roosevelt.
For every death that could have been prevented if medical care were freely available, thank Roosevelt.
For every unarmed poor or working class person shot down by police, thank Roosevelt.
For every failure to find a solution to climate change because doing so conflicts with profit, thank Roosevelt.
For every effort to stir up racial hatred in order to keep the working class from uniting, thank Roosevelt.

Bernie Sanders, for all his talk of socialism, is essentially a New Deal Democrat. In my judgment, he’s a New Deal Democrat at a time when capitalism has no future to borrow against, and, with the best of intentions, I do not think he has any chance to pull off what FDR did. Moreover, I think he’s just in the race to throw his support to Clinton, who represents that section of the capitalist class that hopes they can just hang on for a few more years without settling anything. But hey, I could be wrong. Maybe the ruling class is desperate enough to try for a Sanders, or, going for direct and open confrontation, a Trump. And it’s possible that my understanding of economics is flawed, and Sanders really could win the nomination, and the presidency, and buy U.S. capitalism another decade or two of bombs, unemployment, climate change, racism, and hopelessness. Wouldn’t that be great? No? I don’t think so either.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

73 Comments

  1. Right now, Clinton is also hoping Sanders is in the race to throw his support to her.

    Socialists in the US have two choices, democratic change or revolutionary change. I’d love to hear the argument that revolutionary change is possible in my lifetime. I don’t see it, so I’ll support democratic change.

    My take on Sanders continues to be that he’s a democratic socialist who is advocating social democrat policies for pragmatic reasons. Like his tactics or hate them, he’s been far more successful than any American who dared call himself a socialist. I’ve heard the argument that he just calls himself that for coolness points, but that argument requires ignoring the attitude the US had had toward socialism since the Red Scare. Even today, he’s being hammered by conservatives and liberals for being a commie—Mrs. Clinton and Amanda Marcotte have shown themselves to be Joe McCarthy’s heirs by damning Sanders for supporting the Sandinistas.

  2. Do you see an alternative that you prefer?

  3. I’m not sure I can credit an explicit agreement between Stalin and FDR (or their agents) prior to WWII, but it’s not impossible there was a tacit one anyway.

    As for the future of capitalism, I suspect continuing technology advances combined with market manipulation and the continued exploitation of foreign industry (ie sweatshop labor) in developing countries can continue to make things work for some time to come. In this country that will lead to increased wealth stratification, and at some point that is unsustainable even in our pseudorepublican system no matter how greedy the 1% may be about their prerogatives. So following the line of FDR, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some kind of negative income tax or minimum guaranteed income or whatever it will be called to provide a buffer against abject poverty.

    Advances in robotics are inherently good in the sense of being able to provide higher productivity and greater total wealth to the nation, and in a sane world they would be used to provide everyone with more leisure time and increased personal wealth. But in the real world they will over time eliminate what remaining industrial jobs exist in this country. If something else like the environment or the global economy doesn’t collapse in the meantime we will eventually become a nation of lords (0.01%), managers (1%), servants and clerks and unemployed (everyone else), with the unemployed sector growing more substantial over time. In such circumstances, I expect a negative income tax will be deployed in an attempt to prevent a revolution not merely of the oppressed but of the bored.

  4. skzb

    Howard: Yes, the independent mobilization of the working class. Yes, I think revolution is possible. But remember, if I’m wrong, that even the reforms we’ve gotten, were not “granted” by a Roosevelt, but won through bitter struggle.

    If I am wrong in my evaluation of the state of capitalism, then it is possible that there will be mass movements of the working class that do not end in revolution, but end in more reforms. I don’t think that will happen, but I admit it’s possible. In that case, were Sanders elected and in office at the time, Liberals would give him the credit for those reforms and, as they always do, ignore the mass movement of the working class that actually forced them.

  5. I think your reply is skewed by a cognitive distortion of “all or nothing” thinking. FDR was leftist and created many things that a “revolutionary” government would have created. This made him immensely popular with the people, not so much with politicians–but the popularity he shared among the general population made him more or less invulnerable to the typical political machinations. ie, the power of the people was firmly behind him; and so the corporate interests couldn’t do that much to him–because they too derive their power from the people.

    But to blame FDR for what is essentially human nature that will always manifest no matter what the form of government is, well, giving him too much “credit”.

    Like you, I believe that capitalism is a doomed system that survives on life support in the form of placating gestures (delivered willingly or not is irrelevant) such as The New Deal. But what will kill capitalism is the same thing that killed communism. Eventually the people will lose patience with the empty promises in the form of social programs that seem only to serve to buy time for the uber-elite to use their unfair advantages to perfect new and interesting ways to remain in power. If life were a video game, most of us only have 1 life–if we make a serious mistake…game over. But the rich have many, many lives. They can lose a king’s ransom while they experiment with new ways to maintain their dominance until they eventually find one that works–at which point they recoup their losses.
    Other forms of placatory gestures will also lose their ability to enchant/distract the population. “The American Dream”, that crushingly cynical ploy on the part of those same uber-elites to replace religion with material belongings as the new “opiate of the masses”, is on its last legs. People have finally started to realize the statistical improbability of such a stratospheric rise in fortune–on a par with winning the lottery. It is not a product of a person’s hard work (though they do work very hard) that creates runaway success stories in business like Facebook. It is more the product of being the person who produces the next big thing; being, in short, in the right place at the right time, with the right tools.

    But others work just as hard (often harder) and don’t earn $100 billion dollars.

    I suspect that, if elected, Bernie Sanders will attempt to make many of the changes that an actual socialist might make; at which point I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I very highly doubt it’s part of some grand scheme to “buy capitalism more time” by borrowing against a future that’s more or less 100% tapped. I think he’d do so because he truly believes that the injustice of the circumstance impels us to make the change.

    Will the establishment seek to block him, undo what he accomplishes, or, failing all other attempts to destroy/subvert the change, attempt to take credit for it? Absolutely. Will that provoke a revolution? I don’t know. Maybe.

    What I do know is that psychology stays the same in the long run; Jesus said, “the poor you will always have with you”. I would expand that to say “there will always be rich people, insatiable predators who seek to glut themselves on your very lifeforce”.

    No matter how benevolent they become, they will always keep more than enough for themselves, with justifications like “I need to make sure I can maintain my economic base so that I may continue to contribute to society.” Which ignores entirely the fact that it’s _not their money_. It is the money of others focused into one place, for a time. And I highly doubt that, while they maintain their seed money, they’ll be living anywhere close to the poverty line. To which I say, if you’re not willing to share in the life of those who support your fortune, then you will eventually lose your right to control the combined fruits of their labour.

  6. Steve, liberals might credit Sanders, but Sanders would credit the people. It’s one of the things I like about the guy.

  7. Sorry, for clarity, my first reply was to the OP.

  8. “But the rich have many, many lives. They can lose a king’s ransom while they experiment with new ways to maintain their dominance”

    Just quoting to admire the multiple layers of meaning in “king’s ransom” here. The standard idiomatic meaning, plus the historical meaning, which is an early example of exactly what you are talking about.

  9. skzb

    Miramon: There much here on which we differ, but I want to focus on one piece. “… the continued exploitation of foreign industry (ie sweatshop labor) in developing countries can continue to make things work for some time to come. ”

    Want I’d like to stress is that these foreign labor markets (and, you might have justly added, foreign resources and foreign markets) are limited, and there are other countries that want them for the same reason, for example, Russia and China. To spell it out, this “solution” leads inexorably to World War III.

    I’m speculating here, but it may be that one reason a large section of the ruling elite is hesitant about Sanders is that they question his ability to lead the US in a world war, in spite of all of his protestations that he would continue Obama’s war policies.

  10. skzb

    Jon Carey: Thank you for your thoughtful remarks. My biggest difference with you is where you say, “(delivered willingly or not is irrelevant) …”

    I beg to submit that that it is what is most relevant; it is the decisive question.

    If I am wrong about capitalism’s inability to borrow against the future, and reforms are possible, then that very question—how to extract those reforms—becomes vital. I believe an examination of labor history, and US labor history of the 30s in particular, will bear out my assertion that reforms are never given willingly, but only at the point of a gun.

    This question determines our approach: do we depend on some representative of capitalism to come and save us, or do we count on our own independent power? If I am wrong, and capitalism really is able to give reforms, it is, and always has been, only fear of revolution that has compelled those reforms. And if I am right, and reform is impossible, then counting on a capitalist politician is to the lead the working class into a death trap.

  11. skzb, at present Russia doesn’t have the cash to buy much foreign labor for industry. The oil crash has seen to that, not to mention self-imposed isolation and deliberate populist xenophobia. You can’t even buy European cheese in Russia anymore; it’s illegal. By imperial proclamation they have to do most of their own work these days, which in an ironic way isn’t entirely a bad thing. But still they have no interest in Bangladeshi sweatshops or Malaysian fabrication plants.

    And right now China is a labor market to the west, not a labor purchaser that competes with the west. China does compete in resource extraction in Africa and Afghanistan and places like that, but they don’t purchase much cheap Bangladeshi or Malaysian labor; they have plenty of their own workers to exploit to support their export industry.

    So in the near term neither of them will interfere with foreign labor markets and container ships and the whole system by which the west has exported industry and pollution and worker exploitation in return for cheap goods and a service economy.

  12. “I beg to submit that that it is what is most relevant; it is the decisive question.”

    Hmm, perhaps I should have phrased my original statement, because I completely agree that, in a capitalist society, no *sudden, substantive* reforms (which I term “punctuated”, as opposed to the “gradual” progress we see in society in general over the course of decades or centuries) would ever be made without the threat of a revolution.

    I think the reason for this is, again, down to psychology. Capitalism is, at its core, a layer of lipstick applied over our base instinct towards resource hoarding. It is the same type of sophistry/circular self-justification that is at the foundation of Trickle-Down Economics. It’s designed to lend a veneer of legitimacy to what is otherwise a blatant excess by the system’s proponents.

    It is this aspect of our individual psychology that fails to translate when the scale/context changes to a group mentality. The idea that the agency of the masses when it is focused into a single spot, as light through a magnifying glass, somehow changes ownership is the translational error that takes place. The President, or whatever powerful, influential, rich, etc personage you care to name, *borrows* that agency, to effect changes/agenda that could not succeed without that focus–but it is NOT their agency. That’s why we separate the Office of the President from the man. You respect the office, if not the man, because the man is just a man; but the Office is the physical manifestation of the combined agency of an entire people. The successful CEO is not successful in his own right; at least, not to the tune of whatever compensation package he receives. He’s successful because many very competent people beneath him make him look good. The Executive Assistant, in my opinion, is a far more competent *individual* than almost any CEO–but that’s because the CEO operates within that group mentality context, so it’s not really a fair comparison–it’s the same translation error as before. That being said, the CEO’s still an individual, so I don’t see why he should be compensated as if he were the avatar of the company as a whole.

    So, because of the resource-hoarding/guarding instinct, and because we fail to translate between individual and collective reference frames, we tend to convince ourselves that whatever absurd amount of X that we’ve managed to accumulate is ours by right; and the result is the people to whom that agency ACTUALLY belongs must, more often than not, seize it back from them. It’s a constant struggle; because the foci always has more that can be done. There’s always another emergency, so it makes no sense to them to let go of that focused power. But that power was never consentually focused for that purpose. That is how a Phoenix becomes a Decadent Phoenix. The Kingship has passed from his shoulders, but the King fails to realize it. That paves the way for Adron. Because such a power as the combined agency of an entire people HATES chains. It’s what America was founded upon, after all, and why, after all this time, Freedom is the rallying cry of every demagogue who seeks mindless obedience. It’s powerful stuff.

  13. I don’t like the focus on ideology as more important than real world improvements. I say most ideology is self serving bs. What counts is results.

    The bottom line is, support that which improves the conditions for workers and those in need of social services. skzb, you would call that selling out. I would call it getting what you want. I doubt that any kind of physical revolution is possible at this time, and I don’t particularly want that. I want workers to get a bigger share of the money, decent working conditions, good health care and social supports as needed. I really don’t care what you call the political or economic system that delivers those things.

  14. To your other point, Steve, that to rely upon a capitalist politician is to lead the working class into a death trap; I disagree, but only because of the terms used, and not the substance.

    The working class is not mortal in the way that you or I are; and so cannot die. But it can certainly be exposed/confined to spaces where conditions are, shall we say, less than equitable.

    That being said; the working class as a collective entity has a longer life cycle than any single form of government; and so while the working class may not necessarily enjoy the ride, it will outlast whatever government is exploiting it on any given day.

    I don’t believe any socialist government would fare any better; capitalist is just the word we choose to filter how we see our own instinctual behaviour, which is often (unfairly) biased towards the negative because of how our brains are wired. The failure of communism in Russia is an example of this. ABSOLUTELY it’s more complicated than that; but the fact remains that it’s fiendishly difficult to actually limit the focusing of power. The typical human response to power is to gather more power. That’s not going to chance in a socialist system until we can reprogram many of our deepest instincts–and who KNOWS what problems we’ll create by doing so; what Frankensteins we’ll birth by trying to overreach. But that is a problem for another day. For now, I think the best option on the table is Sanders; a compromise for sure, but at least a step in the right direction, contrary to recent history’s unignorable shift to the right.

    (But yeah, I agree with you–it’s highly unlikely that the election of someone like Sanders will be the beginning of a trend towards socialist politics; I don’t see the States turning into Iceland, for example. And if that’s the case, then Bernie DOES represent just another breath for a drowning man.)

  15. skzb

    “I don’t like the focus on ideology as more important than real world improvements. ”

    Well, that is certainly an interesting ideology.

    “The bottom line is, support that which improves the conditions for workers and those in need of social services”

    Yep. That’s why I am a revolutionary socialist. Do you imagine I’d favor something as scary, difficult, and potentially bloody as social revolution if I believed there was an alternative?

    Which I’ve been saying all along. Could I be wrong? It’s possible. If so, convince me. But when you counter-pose “making things better” with revolution, as if we could just pick which one we wanted off a menu, you prove exactly one thing: that you have never paid attention to a single word I’ve said.

  16. “Well, that is certainly an interesting ideology.” I suppose technically you are correct, but as an ideologue, you knew what I meant.

    It is a bit like picking things off a menu.

    Do I want to try to improve things by non-violence or by violence? I think you have some kind of bias going on here as you have already decided that violence is the only alternative while discouraging the giving of any support to non-violent alternatives (such as Sanders). I agree that workers could be put in a position where returning violence is necessary. We aren’t there quite yet. Nor do I agree that it is inevitable.

    I agree that the threat of possible violence or extreme social pressure is needed. Otherwise you have no power at the bargaining table.

  17. skzb, just because I disagree with some of your assumptions and political models doesn’t mean I have never paid attention.

  18. skzb

    ““Well, that is certainly an interesting ideology.” I suppose technically you are correct, but as an ideologue, you knew what I meant.”

    I think you meant that if you don’t know the name of your ideology, you don’t have one. Or else, maybe, it’s that it is possible for a thinking human being to not have an ideology. In any case, I think you’re wrong.

    “Do I want to try to improve things by non-violence or by violence? ”

    I prefer nonviolence. Do you think those who control all the wealth AND have the power of the state in their hands will permit those things to be taken without instigating violence? I do not. However, that’s another place where I would be delighted to be proven wrong.

    But…Sanders? He favors market economy, which puts him, by definition, on the side of the capitalists. And you are going to ignore all of history and say, no, Sanders is different, he is the one representative of a ruling class in all of history that will take wealth from the pocket of those he serves and give it to us on account of he’s a nice guy.

    Well, you certainly do, as I said above, have an interesting ideology.

  19. “Well bless your little heart” as they say in Texas. ;>)

    We have the obligation to try whatever means is available before violence. I don’t believe Sanders is simply a puppet. The establishment is trying much, much too hard to dismiss him for that to be the case.

    It is not obvious to me (or maybe even you) how there could be a physical revolution in this country at this time. I think the oligarchy has played the game pretty well, keeping the majority of those who might revolt, just above the threshold where widespread violence could occur. But now they are overplaying their hand, so who knows what will happen.

  20. Steve, you keep saying Sanders is a representative of the ruling class, but if so, he’s the oddest one I’ve ever seen. He has not pursued wealth, though as a Senator, he could have easily. He has taken unpopular positions time and time again–maybe not often enough for your taste or mine, but far more than any representative of the ruling class would choose. Call him and me fools for believing democratic change is possible in the US, and that won’t hurt my love for you. But for a man who insists it is important to try to see clearly, you are settling for a simple take on Sanders when you dismiss him as a representative of the ruling class.

  21. Thinking of Franklin as the bane of progress via being the savior of capitalism is, at the least, an interesting exercise in discarding preconceptions. Despite Franklin’s reforms, things were heading south again in the late 30’s/early 40’s as government spending was throttled back. The attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent US entry into WWII ended that slowdown. So, it could be equally put that Hitler and Hideki Tojo were the saviors of capitalism.
    It is hard to say where in the timeline towards whatever will replace capitalism we are currently. I’m hoping that some technologies that seem to be getting nearer will provide enough of a cushion that the transition is smoother rather than nastier, but only time will tell there.

  22. skzb

    No, Will My mistake. He is a representative of the proletariat who wants to get nominated by one of the parties of big business to run the world’s biggest capitalist economy in order to continue capitalism and imperialist wars because of course it is in the interest of the proletariat to continue capitalism and imperialist wars. Silly me.

  23. Interesting premise.

    My first dissertation proposal hypothesized that businesses that are clearly going bankrupt will destroy value for employees and shareholders alike by refusing to recognize when the writing is on the wall and burning cash reserves instead of ripping off the band-aid, helping employees relocate or retrain and still saving money for shareholders.

    It’s pretty clear that happens in business, but I hadn’t considered it happening with countries.

  24. Steve, I suppose I should do an analysis of Sanders’ history with imperialist wars to show that the WSWS has been astonishingly selective in making its case. For now, I’ll just say that things like a high minimum wage and universal health care are very much in the short-term interest of the working class, and it seems to me it’s fine to work for both short-term and long-term goals.

    Out of curiosity, do you think Sanders has some kind of sweetheart deal arranged whereby he gets X gazillion dollars from capitalism if he loses and Y gazillion if he wins? Because he does not currently have the kinds of investments that almost every other national politician has to tie him to corporate America. Or do you think he’s just an idiot who’s been lucky?

  25. Money, what it is and where it comes from? Interesting string. I think the political right and left would agree that we have been printing “funny money” for a long time.

  26. skzb

    I have no reason to believe Sanders has any sort of deal, nor have I seen any indication he is after money, or has ever been anything but a dedicated and principled servant of capitalism, doing what he believes is in its best interest; perhaps because he sincerely believes it is in the best interest of the people. I happen not to agree with him. I believe the working class can count on no one but itself, and that every time it does it gets stabbed in the back.

  27. “dedicated and principled servant of capitalism” I think that is such an odd description that I wouldn’t be surprised if the fact that he has principles still, somehow, sets him so apart from his colleagues that we begin to believe that he is something different…

  28. Hi! I’ve been following this blog lately due to the public recommendation of Jonas Kyratzes, and I’ve been enjoying it. A few scattered thoughts on this one:
    1) Working-class people were organizing to get Sanders to run for president before he even announced his candidacy at the subreddit /r/SandersforPresident, and it was on that subreddit that he first announced his candidacy and asked for their help in a grassroots campaign. I think you may be underestimating the role of the American people in thrusting him to prominence, though of course the ruling class has ultimate say on whether he gets as far as the White House.
    2) While politics are certainly arbitrated by economic powers, there is another layer of power involved–the party leaders, whose business depends on the popular strength of their party. As much as both the rich and the party establishment hate Sanders and Trump, they’ve been allowed to live so far because the party establishment doesn’t want to lose the peoples’ votes. If that fear carries through to the end of primaries, we could very well see a Sanders presidency.

  29. Steve, I’d say the working class can both look out for itself and support the candidate who best represents it in the system we’re stuck with. And if you’re right about Sanders, the capitalists have made themselves a great buy by snagging one of the few non-millionaires in the Millionaires Club.

    Ah, well. I’ll try to bow out for now, agreeing to disagree.

  30. skzb: “Stalin offered Roosevelt a simple deal: Recognize the USSR in exchange for the support of all of the Communist Party led unions, and the strong support the Communist Party had developed among the unemployed and among ‘Negroes’ in the South, who they’d been organizing with some success.”

    If you’re willing to satisfy my curiosity, from what source(s) did you get this fact?

  31. skzb

    It is a conclusion drawn from the following:

    1. I think it’s pretty well established (ie, I assume you won’t argue) that by 1928 all sections of the Comintern were taking orders from Stalin.
    2. In 1928 the Comintern entered its “Third Period” or ultra-left phase, with consequent increase in militancy, resulting in increase in influence in the labor movement and for its own presidential candidate, peaking at 0.26% in 1932.
    3. In 1933 Roosevelt reversed 16 years of US policy and recognized the Soviet Union, and opened diplomatic relationships
    4. In 1933 the Daily Worker abruptly moderated its attacks on Roosevelt, taking much the same “critical support” attitude that today The Nation takes toward President Obama.
    5. In the next election (1936), the Communist Party of the United States supported Roosevelt within the Unions (ie, supported proposals to endorse) Roosevelt, giving its own candidate (Browder) only token support, with the result that their electoral vote actually fell during this period, in spite of their influence within the trade union movement increasing. This continued with a further drop in 1940, in spite very high membership (almost its peak) and increased influence in the labor movement.

  32. I think most people get that FDR was responding to popular demands/needs and not just giving us largesse out of a sense of noblesse oblige. He seemed to be sincere in thinking these were necessary and moral changes. I doubt if he was simply a good con artist. In that sense was he not acting thoughtfully based on the objective realities of the class struggle?

    If FDR did not head off a revolution, how confident are we that the revolution would NOT go the way every other revolution did in the twenties and thirties, i.e. fascism?

    FDR went to the brink on a few things. For example his confrontation with the Supreme Court. Or his boom in regulation and government apparatus. So he does not come off as someone who merely paid off the working class. He has to be approached as someone who was willing to incorporate some of the structural transformations a revolution would probably have brought. So he did not just up the bread and circus budget; he made profound, if not completely revolutionary, changes to the country, for better or worse.

  33. Is it better or worse that we no longer have two sensible parties representing capitalism? (Liberals would probably support Willkie or even Nixon over Obama/Clinton these days, based on their policies/tendencies.) We now seem to have a party of the status quo and an incipient part of populist reaction. Where, oh where, is the party of revolution? (In any meaningful demographic sense.) I am not asking to be an irritant; I genuinely would love to see robust movement on the Left. Where the Hell is it?

  34. @Jon
    “If life were a video game, most of us only have 1 life–if we make a serious mistake…game over. But the rich have many, many lives. They can lose a king’s ransom while they experiment with new ways to maintain their dominance until they eventually find one that works–at which point they recoup their losses.”

    It’s a bit off topic, but I just have to say that this is the best and most succinct refutation I have seen of John Scalzi’s overrated “Lowest Difficulty Setting” metaphor. One doesn’t get serious do-overs for merely having the right sex or skin color. Not in this life. But if you have money and connections…

  35. 1933 is when Hitler rose to power as a “socialist” (which he wasn’t). But the handwriting was on the wall before that. This cannot be ignored as one of the reasons the political climate changed abruptly in the US. A tacet agreement that we had a common enemy.

  36. Anything that moves the discussion points further left seems like a good thing to me. The Democrats have clustered near the middle for quite some time now and have allowed the Republican race towards the far right to keep pulling themselves rightwards.
    So, I like that Bernie is showing people that Socialists don’t necessarily carry pitchforks and have burning red eyes. Yes, he is trying to work within the confines of the current Capitalist system, but if no one tries to stretch a system towards far boundaries, it is unlikely to go in those directions.

  37. @paintedjaguar @Alexx Kay – Thanks for the compliments 🙂

    I wanted to expand on two implications of the current situation where money is highly localized in a relatively few number of people.

    1) is the degredation of those people’s perceived valuations of their money; again, if any one of us bought a $200,000 ferrari and crashed it, that would likely cause us to go bankrupt. Or if we spent $2M on a wedding, we wouldn’t be likely to annul it the following month as you might hear about a couple in Hollywood. It is due to the fact that the agency acccumulates in a person–and because that person fails to recognize that it is due to the change in reference frame–that a person becomes so spoiled. Too much money is a corrosive asset to your ability to maintain a grounded perspective. But as I said before, these people can afford to expend enormous amounts of resources testing ways to maintain their position without really suffering from the loss–so much so that they often have disposable income for things like lavish cars/weddings for no real reason other than because they can.

    2) which is a little more to the point and less morally self-righteous, is the idea that distributing wealth more equitably allows for greater overall agency and increased likelihood of success _as a group_. If I may make the metaphor of comparing a group entity/collective/society to an individual organism, right now we’re “immuno-surpressed”. We are spending so much of our systems resources maintaining the status quo that our ability to respond to new, opportunistic threats is impaired. The greatest achievements of the US in the 20th century occurred because the people got behind the project—winning world war II, going to the moon. A very large portion of the total agency (by the way, I like to use the analogy of “current” as in, electrical current, to describe collective agency–it can vary in terms of route/destination, bandwidth (voltage) and throughput (amperage) and can produce some shocking results :P) of the States was focused on those two particular projects, with positive results in those cases. That level of singular focus is not common, nor necessarily desirable. But describing it allows me to demonstrate that the focus point(s) of a society are necessarily dynamic. Currently, the things with elevated priority (or less “resistance” to use the electricity analogy) in the collective consciousness are concepts like terrorism, vaccines, social media, oil, etc. There are many more, and each one has a certain piece of the total agenda. As each topic fluctuates in terms of priority, the system responds by allocating more/less resources to it. Government’s primary role, in my opinion, is to serve as the “electrician” by directing that current according to their best understanding/analysis of the historical, present, and future contexts of their situation. Ie, I know premise A has been valid in the current situation in the past, so I’d like to use it to accomplish B while being mindful of obstacle C.

    Increasing the resources in the system ensures that the maximum amount of energy is free to be allocated to the priorities of the time; if it is bound up in, for example, 1% of the population, then you dramatically reduce the spectrum of what issues that are likely to receive proper resource allocation, because the diversity of ideas is greatly reduced in that segment for a large variety of reasons, not the least of which is that people on the top are focused on maintaining the status quo (where they have all the resources) which is fundamentally opposed to not only progressive/change-based ideas, but also the very concept of flexibility in the first place.

    I’m not sure if I’m explaining my ideas very well. Is what I’m saying making any kind of sense? I spend the vast majority of my time thinking in the language of the collective (independent of systems of government) and sometimes have difficulty translating down to the individual level. I (over)use metaphor and analogy and symbols, because, well, those things form the lexicon of collective thought.

  38. Jon Carey:To extend your current metaphor, I think we could even say that each economic system of organization could roughly be said to correspond to a substrate that the electronics work upon. So, we could have Feudalism match vacuum tubes, Capitalism be silicon, Market Socialism be multicores on silicon, and just like silicon is nearing ends end of life in terms of a computing infrastructure and will get replaced by graphene or one of its competitors, we need to move to a new economic substrate system.
    People get attached to the current substrate system in which they find themselves for emotional reasons (and for some because they have directly benefited the most) but really need to put that aside. The economic system is just a framework–when it has outlived its usefulness, it should be discarded and a new one replace it that better fits the parameters we want. The retooling process can have some pain involved.
    Now, of course, there is debate over what parameters a new economic model should support. (I would encourage one where there is less aggregate human suffering–no starving children for example).

  39. @Steve I 100% agree with your characterization -especially where it points to how we tend to resist change away from a tried-and-true method–we do tend to like having a sense of security, even though we exist in a world where that sense is to one degreee or another, illusory.

    But I will also state that we must remain mindful of the limitations of using metaphors to convey abstract, generalized concepts; the more detailed it becomes, the less effective of a metaphor it is likely to be. It’s kind of like how a lot of the flavour of a language is lost in translation. It’s very hard to translate japanese to english, or german to english, while still remaining faithful to the full-bodied character/sub-text etc of the original language.

    I think the new parameters you proposed are too humanistic, ie, human-centric. If we’re going to look at our economic system as a system, let’s not do it by half-measures. What we’re really looking for is a means of maintaining flexibility/adaptability while retaining our ability to direct energy towards certain goals; while simultaneously being aware of our own inherent tendency towards certain types of behaviours such as resource-hoarding, ie, putting in place controls for those behaviours.

    There will always be starving children; it is one of those pre-dispositions to perceive the whole sum of our burdens we each carry as 100+x% of our carrying capacity. That is our emotional mind reacting to the stress–and I do not say that to discount what our emotional minds have to offer; merely to acknowledge what process creates that tendency. So we must take that into account when we build our new substrate; that the PERCEPTION will always be that there is unfairness. The goal, at that point, is to make sure that the unfairness exists as an optics issue ONLY, and has, more or less, no substantive grounds that justify that perception.

  40. …in that way, we can try to ensure that the side-effects of our system are effects that, for example, reduce the overall suffering of the population, or drive down child poverty, etc.

    But the other reason I think we need to avoid human-centric thought is the honey bee. This is a more or less low priority topic in our collective mind; but the potential for their extinction/non-viability as a species carries enormous consequences for our quality of life. Ie, we cannot focus on humanity (and by extension our systems for government) in a vacuum; we exist in a complicated ecosphere which is not immune to our developments. If we are stuck to a frame of reference that is more or less confined to a 75 year window, we will doom ourselves to great suffering regardless of the system of government that we adopt.

    We MUST stop thinking like individuals exclusively; we MUST cultivate our ability to transpose our mode of thought into collective-level frames.

    And that’s why I’m a socialist–because, to me, it is the system that most facilitates that shift back and forth between modes (which I believe is critical to our survival and eventual advancement into a space-faring species); that it tends to be more “fair” to the individual is really just a bonus.

  41. skzb

    paintedjaguar: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you’re right.

  42. Re: Lowest Difficulty Setting – I’m not sure I see how my comment is a refutation of that proposition. Can you please explain it to me? I do believe that there is a significant advantage to be found in being a Straight White Male; but Scalzi explicitly mentioned that you can still lose while playing the easiest difficulty setting.

    I would say that the SWM archetype as easiest is perhaps a little western-oriented–I’m sure that it wouldn’t be so advantageous to be a SWM in China–it would be more advantageous to be a Straight Chinese Male…but the principle is still valid.

    I think the proof is that the richest, most powerful people are overwhelmingly straight, (ethnic majority) males, of an older generation who come from rich families. Those people won the goddamn lottery, and that makes me made because it’s inherently unfair; and makes me even MORE mad because it’s a documented fact that those people tend to start believing that they are ENTITLED to their power/influence etc. and become less empathetic/sympathetic to the suffering of others who do not share their ridiculously light level of burden.

  43. “If life were a video game, most of us only have 1 life–if we make a serious mistake…game over. But the rich have many, many lives. They can lose a king’s ransom while they experiment with new ways to maintain their dominance until they eventually find one that works–at which point they recoup their losses.” —Jon Carey

    Quoted for excellence, and to add that this is the reason the Scandinavian countries have such strong records for entrepreneurship—they know that if they try and fail, they won’t lose everything. It’s also a reason that I support Basic Income while I’m waiting for the Revolution.

  44. Jon Carey, my favorite response to Scalzi’s proposition was by a commenter there. Michael Kirkland said, “I’m thankful for all the advantages I have over Herman Cain’s daughter. I really dodged a bullet there.”

  45. @Will – while pithy, it disregards the statistical distributions upon which the Lowest Difficult Argument is predicated. You can win on the highest difficulty setting, the same way you can lose on the lowest.

  46. @Jon, no one is denying that racism and sexism still have their affect. But as socialists, we’re saying it is easier to be black, female, and rich in this capitalist country than it is to be white, male, and poor. Just look at poor people’s dental health if you doubt that. Or the quality of health care that rich Americans of all hues can buy. Look at class mobility and regional poverty—poor whites in very poor neighborhoods do not have significantly better outcomes than poor blacks. Again, this is not denying that racism and sexism are over or irrelevant. It’s saying that under capitalism, capital matters more.

  47. Oh! okay, I get your point now. Yes, the factors that are “difficulty modifiers” are not all the same. Being black might be a x2 modifier, non-normative gender/sexuality orientation might be a x3, and being poor might be a x4. Not actual numbers, but just to demonstrate there might be a difference from one modifier to the next–and on top of that, they are all affected by one another; ie being white, straight and poor might cause the poor modifier to sky-rocket to x20 because everyone expects you to have it easy, so no one realizes/cares that you might need help.

  48. …also because of how much importance wealth has in a capitalist society 🙂

  49. @Jon Agreed. I keep wishing someone would actually make the game of Oppression Olympics , but your list shows why that would be so hard: should being black be a x2 modifier or a x1? If the game is to join the Forbes 400, you would have to factor in the percentage of people in that top group relative to the general population and class mobility for each economic quintile—getting there from the bottom quintile is damn near impossible, no matter what color you are. This might be a decent place to start the research:

    http://gawker.com/5645917/the-forbes-400-a-demographic-breakdown

  50. @skzb:Yes, the game is rigged and we need a different one. Unfortunately, as being played now lots of people suffer unnecessarily and then everyone loses in the end (including those who currently think they are far ahead on points).

  51. @Will – the prospect of creating hard data to base an actual rating system on makes me tremble in fear. I’d definitely appreciate such a project, but I’m not the person to make those kind of judgements, and I’m certainly not enough of a numbers guy to figure out the formulas of how all the moving parts in that game would interact with each other. I say we make David Dyer Bennett do it.

  52. @Jon Excellent call!

  53. Universal basic income is a real thing that is happening in the world. It didn’t require a violent revolution, it instead came from an evolution. We just have to get there.

  54. skzb–

    I understand your argument that defeating capitalism through a national presidential campaign is hopeless. Barak Obama is only the most recent example. He said a few hopeful things while campaigning, and voted against the Iraq war in 2003, so it seemed like there was a chance Obama would be marginaly better than the other alternatives. Ralph Nader had Obama pegged, though. Nader realized that much of Obama’s financial backing was from the nation’s biggest law firms and Wall Street. As president, Obama has essentially been George W. Bush with a smoother tongue.

    That said, I find myself rooting for Sanders to win. For one thing, I just really despise Hilary Rodham Clinton. She’s a patholigical liar, shameless opportunist, and a triangulating Wall Street and corporate lackey. As a bonus, while running the State Department, she was nearly as incompetent as she was genocidal. Quite frankly, I would downright love to see her lose again like she did in 2008.

    Secondly, real revolution scares me. I have not done terribly in the current system, as I have a profession (sometimes fulfilling), a home, and a small boy. Revolutions are scary and dangerous. Win or lose, people get killed.

    Sanders seems like a more legitimate reformer than Obama was, since Sanders has a longer, more consistent track record. Also, Sanders is not taking Wall Street or corporate money. The “sheep-dog” hypothesis is an interesting one, but it sure seems to me that Sanders is actually trying to win. Also, it seems doubtful to me that the young, disaffected and indepent folks Sanders is appealing to would just go for Clinton if he lost, as Clinton and the DRC have been so transparently nasty, dishonest, and dirty in their attempts to quell Sanders’ insurgent campaign. I think they would just stay home or try to organize in other ways.

    What is your pitch to someone like me?

  55. Steve’s pitch will be different than mine, so I’m leaping in to say I basically agree with you, and all comparisons of Obama to Sanders are false. For some reason, most people in 2008 didn’t look closely at his record, but Adolph Reed pegged him in ’96: “In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway.”

    Sanders has a record. In some cases, he didn’t vote as I might wish, but if you check his reasons, they usually had to do with making hard calls on a bill that included other things which he felt he needed to support or oppose. The basic question is whether we can progress within the limited democracy that capitalists allow us. I think the answer may be yes. It’s why I’m not supporting a third-party candidate this year unless the Clinton Machine manages to crush Sanders.

  56. Kragar, one more “fact” about the Machiavellian nature of our political system: I read that Nader was getting a lot of financial support from the Koch brothers. Don’t know if it is true.

    But I have been disappointed with Obama in his doing many of the very things he campaigned against. Also his supporting the TPP is really bad for the country and workers specifically.

  57. Having worked in politics for a bit more than a decade (before realizing how my values were morphing and getting out), my take may be a little different because I worked in and around the sausage factory for so long.

    There are gradations within those who support the capitalist system, and even those who unabashedly want to continue it. In this as other periods, there are the pure ideologues who accept and argue for the worst excesses of capitalism because that’s the best way of organizing production (not using *that* phrase of course, nor defining “best”). There are also those who see that the excesses threaten the overall health of the system and are eager to search for programs that will ameliorate the effect of capitalist logic. And occasionally there are political actors who owe no particular allegiance to capitalism save being stuck in a false consciousness mindset and therefore never thinking of the possibility of revolutionary change.

    I see Sanders as in this last category, Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Kasich in the first, Clinton in the second. Sanders is not running to galvanize people behind him to throw them to Clinton, but to get the requisite number of delegates to demand a prime speaking slot and dictate the party platform and rules for the future nominating contests. (Privately would imagine he’s also thinking that if Clinton gets indicted over the email thing before the convention…)

    Yes, ultimately Sanders will almost certainly support Clinton, but if he doesn’t get his demands met his lip service support will do more harm than good — and that’s his gun in the room on every discussion. (See Ford v. Reagan, Carter v Kennedy).

    The most interesting thing about this cycle is how many people are flocking to candidates who imply rhetorically that they will implement revolutionary change. And many are people who have not been involved in politics before.

    My own view of the way to make Socialist revolution owes more to Gramsci than anyone, and what’s great about being in a continent-sized country is the scope to grow before the State realizes what’s going on. This is about work with one’s head down, creating the institutions that will form the basis of the new society. There are some interesting things going on in Chicago, Baltimore, Oakland and other localities. Odd how they are almost completely oblivious to national politics.

  58. Discussion about economies and politics are fine and dandy, but what I really want to know is: when is the next Vlad book coming out? I’m dying for a fix.

  59. SKZB- “…ever been anything but a dedicated and principled servant of capitalism..”

    Yes, all those dedicated and principled servants of capitalism routinely protested and were arrested during the civil rights marches of the 60s; like Bernie Sanders.

    I thought Stalin broke off all cooperation with western social democrats in 1928.

    Is there any actual evidence that Roosevelt reached a deal with Stalin before the election? I’ve searched widely for any connection pre-election, but found nothing.

    At its peak the Daily Worker had a circulation of 35,000.

    In 1932 Roosevelt received 22.8 million votes, Hoover 15.7 million, CPUSA’s Foster received 100 thousand. Does anyone that can think critically believe that any politician is going to sweat over those 100,000 votes? Seriously? Spread out over 48 states?

    Someone is building a theory on a house of imaginary cards.

  60. skzb

    “Yes, all those dedicated and principled servants of capitalism routinely protested and were arrested during the civil rights marches of the 60s; like Bernie Sanders.”

    I can make no sense of this statement unless you are implying that one cannot simultaneously be in favor of civil rights and a supporter of capitalism. If so, why do you think so? If not, what do you mean?

    “I thought Stalin broke off all cooperation with western social democrats in 1928.”

    Yes, at the beginning of the Third Period. But I have trouble seeing what Stalin’s relationship to the European SDLPs has to do with his deals with Roosevelt.

    “Is there any actual evidence that Roosevelt reached a deal with Stalin before the election? I’ve searched widely for any connection pre-election, but found nothing.”

    I answered that above, in a reply to L. Raymond. It is a conclusion drawn from facts. The facts are indisputable. The conclusion may be wrong, but I don’t think so.

    Your comment on vote totals merely restates what I said in the original post, and to me, it provides additional evidence for my thesis. Your observation of the circulation of the Daily Worker indicates a lack of understanding of revolutionary politics and the operation of working class parties. Pravda, the newspaper of the Bolshevik Party, never exceeded a circulation o f 100,000 as far as I can tell right up to the point where it led the working class and peasants of Russia in a seizure of power. The circulation of the Militant, organ of the Socialist Workers Party, never reached anywhere near the 35,000 mark of the Daily Worker, but they led a strike that shut down and took over the city of Minneapolis in 1934. The influence of the CP in San Fransisco General Strike was huge. They CP also led the TUUL, which unionized masses of African-American workers throughout the South. The CP also led mass unions in Pittsburgh, and (I believe, I might be wrong about this) Detroit. In short, the Communist Party had influence over, literally, millions of radicalized workers through organizing and leading the unions.

    Someone needs to study more history before making remarks about theories and imaginary cards.

  61. SKZB writes “I have trouble seeing what Stalin’s relationship to the European SDLPs has to do with his deals with Roosevelt.”

    What deals? Imaginary deals. Zero factual evidence of any 1932 deals whatsoever.

    Foster garnered 100,000 votes. The difference in the 1932 election was 7 MILLION votes out of nearly 40 million cast. On this you build a theory? One could build a simialr case then for Nixon and China; secret deals to get communist party votes in the 1972 election. At least we know Nixon actually communicated with the Chinese – zero evidence for Roosevelt communicating with Stalin in 1932.

    Racism served capitalism.

  62. skzb

    Did you even read the OP? The point was not the votes, Roosevelt had plenty of those. The electoral support he got from the CP is symptomatic, not the point. The point is the betrayal of the struggles of the working class, the heading off of socialist revolution. Electoral politics, then as today, serve as a good barometer of the thinking of the various factions of the ruling class, but are never how change takes place. That is exactly the point of the post. You are welcome to disagree with any or all of my arguments, but ignoring them entirely makes me wonder why you’re even bothering to comment.

  63. FDR threw the working class just enough of a bone to mollify them into standing down from open insurrection. Are you saying it is possible that the masters have put forward Bernie Sanders in 2016 to fulfill a similar role?

  64. My Grampa subscribed to Pravda in Czech.

  65. skzb – I can read what you wrote. I don’t believe you *remember* what you wrote: “Stalin offered Roosevelt a simple deal: Recognize the USSR in exchange for the support of all of the Communist Party led unions, and the strong support the Communist Party had developed among the unemployed and among “Negroes” in the South, who they’d been organizing with some success.”

    “Stalin offered Roosevelt a simple deal:” on *what* evidence? Simply handwaving and saying it must be so is *not* evidence.

    “…the strong support the Communist Party had developed…” – No, they managed 100,000 votes out of nearly 43 million cast. That is not strong support in *any* political sense.

    There’s zero evidence for the claim and the alleged support rationale is no rationale at all. 100k out of 43 million. Seriously, you believe a national politician would care?

    An actual historical account would point out that in distressed economic times voters move against the status quo. This is why Roosevelt was elected. It’s what allowed Hitler to come to power in the same era. The correlation between economic distress and political change has been long chronicled – it requires no secret deals.

    P.S. – as your own very first link points out, the labor provisions in Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act were eventually struck down by the supreme court. Roosevelt then went even further by getting the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) passed. Odd that you neglect to mention either of these landmark pieces of legislation.

  66. skzb

    Kragar: Yes, exactly.

    ‘“…the strong support the Communist Party had developed…” – No, they managed 100,000 votes out of nearly 43 million cast. That is not strong support in *any* political sense.’

    Are you denying the role of the TUUC in organizing Southern workers? Of the role of the CP in the San Fransisco General Strike? Of the SWP in the Minneapolis General Drivers Strike? Of the radical elements in the Flint sit-down strikes? If you aren’t denying them, are you saying they don’t matter, that the only thing that matters is who gets votes in an election? If the latter, you are taking as a premise exactly that which I am attempting to demonstrate is incorrect.

    I already referred to my answer concerning why I believe Stalin and Roosevelt made a deal, but I guess you’re too lazy to look upstream, so I’ll copy and paste it for you:

    “It is a conclusion drawn from the following:
    1. I think it’s pretty well established (ie, I assume you won’t argue) that by 1928 all sections of the Comintern were taking orders from Stalin.
    2. In 1928 the Comintern entered its “Third Period” or ultra-left phase, with consequent increase in militancy, resulting in increase in influence in the labor movement and for its own presidential candidate, peaking at 0.26% in 1932.
    3. In 1933 Roosevelt reversed 16 years of US policy and recognized the Soviet Union, and opened diplomatic relationships
    4. In 1933 the Daily Worker abruptly moderated its attacks on Roosevelt, taking much the same “critical support” attitude that today The Nation takes toward President Obama.
    5. In the next election (1936), the Communist Party of the United States supported Roosevelt within the Unions (ie, supported proposals to endorse) Roosevelt, giving its own candidate (Browder) only token support, with the result that their electoral vote actually fell during this period, in spite of their influence within the trade union movement increasing. This continued with a further drop in 1940, in spite very high membership (almost its peak) and increased influence in the labor movement.”

    And, in spite of all evidence, you still insist on seeing number of votes cast for a party as an indication of that party’s strength in the working class, even when they were deliberately and consciously not pushing their own candidate. But even if they had been, the point wasn’t the *election* of Roosevelt, the point was putting a lid on the developing socialist revolutionary tendencies of millions of workers. Votes mean nothing. Action means everything. I have now explained this three times in three different ways, and if you are going to ignore it again, I won’t answer. This is getting boring.

    As for the laws you refer to, I thought those were too obvious to mention, along with all of the various pro-labor deals Roosevelt made. But they certainly back up my point. Those were the effect of the pressure of massive working class upheaval–the very upheaval I’ve been talking about all along. Liberal politicians love to take credit for things like civil rights, workplace safety laws, and closed shops; they do this by ignoring the mass movements that forced these concessions. If we permit ourselves to remain ignorant of history and simply accept what we’re told, we’ll never know better.

  67. skzb — As I’ve pointed out to you before – there were dozens of American companies doing business in the USSR in the 1920s. Hell, President Warren Harding asked and for and Congress authorized $20 million for Soviet famine relief in 1921, Harding directed Herbert Hoover (then Secretary of Commerce) to organize the American Relief Administration (ARA) to do the job. The ARA was a completely American-run relief program for the transport, storage, and delivery of relief supplies (mainly food and seed grain) to those in the famine region. After Soviet officials agreed, hundreds of American volunteers were dispatched to oversee the program.

    The idea that the recognition occurred in a vacuum, devoid of any other developments, required a secret deal between Stalin and Roosevelt simply does not withstand scrutiny or commonsense. It’s alternative history, i.e., fiction.

  68. skzb – It was suggested to Hoover by some of his political advisors that *he* recognize the USSR to *gain* votes in industrial states and among the unemployed late in the 1932 election. And business in general *wanted* recognition of Russia. Alfred E. Smith said in the Senate in 1933, “There’s no use trading with them under cover… we might just as well be represented there and let them be represented here at Washington, and let us do business with them in the open.”

    Recognition of the USSR was not some giant reversal of American foreign policy as you would like to portray it. The Chamber of Commerce was sending envoys to Russia at the time. None of this points to the need for any secret deal.

  69. skzb

    And I quote:

    “Initially, the talks made little headway due to several outstanding issues: the unpaid debt owed by the Soviet Union to the United States, the restriction of religious freedoms and legal rights of U.S. citizens living in the Soviet Union, and SOVIET INVOLVEMENT IN COMMUNIST SUBVERSION AND PROPAGANDA WITHIN THE UNITED STATES . Following a series of one-on-one negotiations known as the “Roosevelt-Litvinov Conversations,” however, Litvinov and the President worked out a “gentleman’s agreement” on November 15, 1933, that overcame the major obstacles blocking recognition.” [emphasis added–SB]

    https://history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/ussr

  70. The link you provide doesn’t really support your interpretation. Breaking it up into bullets, there are 3 strong reasons given for normalizing US/USSR relations, 3 things we demanded in return, and 3 reasons it failed. You’ll notice the 2nd point under our demands is no interference in US domestic affairs, which you may argue was a required smoke screen if R. wanted Stalin to secretly support him, but such interference is the 2nd point under why cooperation was “short lived”.

    To paraphrase the page:

    Almost immediately upon taking office, however, President Roosevelt moved to establish formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. His reasons for doing so were complex, but the decision was based on several primary factors.

    • Roosevelt hoped that recognition of the Soviet Union would serve U.S. strategic interests by limiting Japanese expansionism in Asia,

    • and he believed that full diplomatic recognition would serve American commercial interests in the Soviet Union, a matter of some concern to an Administration grappling with the effects of the Great Depression.

    • Finally, the United States was the only major power that continued to withhold official diplomatic recognition from the Soviet Union.

    According to the terms of the Roosevelt-Litvinov agreements, the Soviets

    • pledged to participate in future talks to settle their outstanding financial debt to the United States.

    • would refrain from interfering in American domestic affairs (i.e. aiding the American Communist Party),

    • would grant certain religious and legal rights for U.S. citizens living in the Soviet Union.

    Following the conclusion of these agreements, President Roosevelt appointed William C. Bullitt as the first U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union.

    Unfortunately, the cooperative spirit embodied in the Roosevelt-Litvinov agreements proved to be short-lived.

    • Shortly after his arrival in Moscow in December 1933, [Ambassador] Bullitt became disillusioned with the Soviets as an agreement on the issue of debt repayment failed to materialize.

    • Moreover, evidence emerged that the Soviet Government had violated its pledge not to interfere in American domestic affairs.

    • Finally, the killing of the Leningrad Communist Party boss, Sergey Kirov, launched the first of the “Great Purges” that led to the death or imprisonment of millions of Soviet citizens as the Stalinist regime liquidated any potential critics of the government

  71. I hate being the jackass, but can you give an update on Vallista? 2014 seems to be the last time it was mentioned.

    Thanks, huge fan.

  72. skzb

    Matt, there’s a new blog post just for you.

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