Day 11 Oct. 1, 2002
1. Names. Topical statements back—mainly quite good, though I have various ideas and suggestions, as usual. Next stage is historical overviews, which are due in a couple of weeks. This stage will require some serious research, and some thinking about the borders of your study: where do you pick up the issue, what do you concentrate on? As I wrote on some of your proposals, the focus of the course is on modern America, though we’ve looked back over the past as preparation; your eventual focus should be on modern America, though the historical survey might of course look behind a fair distance—or not all that far, depending.. Talk with me if you have questions.
We’ll start Color Purple on Thursday, so read as much as you can, or at least a third. A and B responses.
2. What about Roger and Me? Where on the political spectrum is Michael Moore? He’s, I’d say, an old-style, working-class, labor-union leftist. Not New Left or leftover sixties radical, hmm? Note the movie comes back over and over to the 1937 sit-down strike which forced GM to recognize the United Auto Workers as the legitimate representative of the workers.
What happened in Flint? Auto industry went through major recession in 70’s with oil crises, demand for small cars, competition from Japan, etc. In 80’s American companies recovered, became profitable again; 80’s plant closings were not because companies were losing money, but because they hoped to make more money by shifting production overseas, replacing high-priced US workers with cheap foreign labor. It worked, more or less, in that company profits increased, shareholder returns and executive compensation went through the roof. . . .
These days GM is still profitable, those who still have jobs are making good money, and the top executives are getting, well, filthy rich.
What about the characters in this movie? Moore himself? Roger Smith? Tom Kay the company p.r. person? Bob Eubanks, who keeps telling rude jokes? The rabbit woman? Fred Ross, deputy for evictions? Workers? Bob who cracks up? Anita Bryant, who says hang in there, be positive, today’s a new day, thank God for the sunshine? Pat Boone? It’s nobody’s fault, he says. In a free, capitalist society there are shifts . . . the key is attitude.
Two views: that the “shifts” are external, natural forces, painful but inevitable. Or, that specific human beings make particular decisions that have particular effects on others . . .
The Amway color woman. She just seems deluded, hmm?
The lady golfers: You can’t help them. They just don’t want to work. Some of them anyway.
Reagan: move to Texas.
Schuller: tough times don’t last, tough people do. Turn your hurt into a halo. He gets 20 grand to come to town.
The attempts at urban renewal: “Our spark will surprise you.” In some areas, money is still flowing; $11 mil. for Hyatt Regency, $100 mil for Autoworld. They both go broke. Puppet autoworker singing love song to robot that’s going to replace him on the line. “Me and My Buddy.”
Back to the rabbit lady: what about her? Why should she gross us out? Isn’t she doing what the Anita Bryants and Pat Boones recommend, making the best of things, setting up a business, keeping herself going?
Anybody see a parallel between the way she treats her rabbits and the way GM treats its workers?
She’s in the movie not as a symbol but as metonymy: a part that stands for a larger whole. She is to her rabbits, more or less exactly, as Roger Smith is to the workers of Flint. She needs to do what she needs to do, and when the rabbits are too old to be pets she needs to find some other way to use them. She doesn’t hate them; she likes them, in her own way. But she’s got to live, right? She cares for her rabbits, but she doesn’t see them as people. Smith “cares” for the workers at the GM plants, but . . .
Tom Kay: Why should GM be loyal to Flint? Its goal is to make money. What do you think?
Crime on the rise: the stolen Nightline truck, the new jail. Couples spending $100 to spend a night in it. Whoopee.
What lines or divides in our society does this movie show? Does it exaggerate the division between working and upper class? Or is it the way that it is? Do those above the line show much understanding of those below it? Solzhenitsyn: “A man who’s warm can’t understand a man who’s cold.”
The Roger Smith Christmas message, intercut with Deputy Fred evicting people on Christmas Eve: not too hard to get the message here, hmm?
What about this view of the country and the economic system? The film is hardly a “comedy” in the usual sense of that term, is it? It’s more in the tradition of black comedies like Mash or Catch-22, in which the laughter is the only remaining defense against the brutal violence of war. Here the brutality is economic, not military, and the casualties are merely thrown into the street, not killed outright; but otherwise it’s not much different.
Is he right or not? Or, does this point of view matter? What makes this movie so surprising, I think, is that it treats social realities that are generally avoided in the mainstream media, for all we hear about how “liberal” they are. Small/midsize midwestern cities are just about invisible; people who live in New York or LA, where most media stuff comes from, tend to live in the illusion that there are only a few thousand people scattered in between the coasts, unless some schoolkid in one of those towns starts shooting his classmates.
Cf. Ragged Dick and the American Dream. There Mr. Whitney is the great benevolent father, helping out the plucky lad. Here Roger Smith is the Bad Father, the one who abandons his children and hires underlings who blame it all on impersonal market forces. The message isn’t “Work hard and you’ll get ahead,” but “Work as hard as you want, you may just get screwed anyway.” Hmm? Meanwhile the folks above the unemployment line are still repeating variations on the old line.
Also, cf. the recent shooting in Mount Morris: a 6-year old boy, his father in jail, his mother evicted from her house, using drugs and working “during the day and into the evening” according to a neighbor. He didn’t have a bed of his own. He was often in trouble, he had a social worker.
Now, what’s the deal here? Whose fault is this? Is it the mother’s for being morally weak? The father’s for abandoning the family, for getting himself locked up? Do the people who closed down the plants in Flint and shipped those jobs somewhere else bear any responsibility?
3. What about unions in America? Look at some of the web sites I found--the Haymarket riot, the Flint strike, information about labor history and current statistics. Say I wanted to write about labor issues--I’m more than halfway there already.
Note also looking for stuff on various sides of issues, and recognizing bias. The AFL-CIO, the guy who spoke at Hillsdale, the government report.
What’s true? That unions are the last best hope for the American working person, that union members almost inevitably get higher wages and better working conditions than non-union members in similar jobs? Or that unions are bent on destroying our freedoms, ruining the corporations their money comes from, stifling free enterprise everywhere, and turning the country into a hapless socialist dystopia? Well, you decide.
It is true that union influence and membership have been steadily declining, along with manufacturing jobs that paid high wages for relatively unskilled work. . . .
http://workers.labor.net.au/86/c_historicalfeature_donations.html A report on the current situation regarding plant closings and the threat of closing/moving plants as a
deterrent to labor organizing.
“In the most comprehensive survey ever of U.S. union organizing campaigns, Bronfenbrenner found that "the majority of employers consistently, pervasively and extremely effectively tell workers either directly or indirectly that if they ask for too much, or don't give concessions, or try to organize, strike or fight for good jobs with good benefits, the company will close, move out of state or move across the border, just as so many other plants have done before."
In union organizing drives in the United States in 1998 and 1998, she found, more than half of all employers threatened to close all or part of the facility if workers voted to join a union.
But the situation is even worse than that figure suggests, because for some types employers it is difficult to make credible threats to move -hotels and hospitals, for example, are to a considerable extent tied to place.
In mobile industries -- manufacturing and other companies that can credibly threaten to shift production -- the plant closing threat rate was 68 percent. In all manufacturing, it was 71 percent. In food processing, it was 71 percent.”
What’s the legacy of nonviolent action mean for America in the 21st century? Protests at WTO meetings, and at abortion clinics—there’s a very short answer. What’s the legacy of industrial capitalism?
Enron and Microsoft, cozy dealings between the richest men and the most powerful politicians; and Bill Gates setting up a multi-billion-dollar fund for world-wide public health improvements.
2. For today: the civil rights movement and the Cold War. It’s interesting that the one was more or less contained within the other, in terms of time. We’ll be returning to these events closer to our own time more often than the more distant ones in the rest of the course, but today I hope to establish some themes and ideas that will help us on the way.
3. Civil Rights movement. Some themes and comments.
“Ordinary people.” Yes. A mass movement, not just a few exceptional leaders and a bunch of ignorant followers. The importance of planning and training and of everyone involved understanding and being committed to the strategy and tactics of nonviolence. Rosa Parks had nonviolence training. The involvement of young people, college students, etc. Why? The Freedom Riders of 1964, Freedom Summer—hundreds of college students, mostly white and northerners, coming south. Resisted strongly by southerners, they helped raise awareness in the north—face it, white people beaten up and killed in the cause of freedom made a bigger impression on white northerners than black folks. An important, unanticipated effect: those Freedom Riders, when they returned to college, were more radicalized, ready to apply the tactics of nonviolent resistance and direct action to other injustices they saw around them: college governance, gender oppression, the war in Vietnam.
The “movement” as a complicated mix of groups and organizations. The longer it went on, the more complicated it got. J/H talk very little of what happened by the mid-sixties, when impatience with the slow pace of change grew and the Black Power movement, more radical and willing to talk about violence in “self-defense,” drew more and more followers. The Black Muslims, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, etc.
But the early groups: NAACP, SCLC, ACMHR, SNCC, CORE.
Let’s talk about tactics and strategy. The list on 223. Ends and means must cohere—this is crucial and a fundamental difference with the strategy of force. To defeat the system, not individuals; to believe that even “bad” people can change in response to nonviolent pressure. The importance of suffering as a social force, awakening the conscience of the oppressor.
Another key, mentioned only in passing: publicity. TV images of blacks and whites attacked by police dogs and blasted by fire hoses shocked millions who had lived more or less oblivious to racism.
Major legislative victories: the Voting Rights Act of 65, the Civil Rights Act of 68.
Segregationist resistance: against “big government,” “outside agitators,” “Communists.” The less overt racism of the north, which became more overt under pressure; King famously said that he’d never seen such hatred as when he led a march for open housing in Cicero, a suburb of Chicago. Massive riots in cities north and south in most of the summers of the late 60s, and again even as recently as 1992 in L.A.
Other effects: Magda doubts that the civil rights movement was a model for Poland. I don’t know enough to say, about that or the other movements J/H mention—the Philippines, South Africa, China, other countries in Eastern Europe. But it is beyond question that in the last two decades of the century there were numerous successful social and political transformations that were largely driven by nonviolent activism. After the militarism and stagnation of the Cold War, that’s reason for a great deal of hope.
4. The Cold War. from NSC 68 (1950), which Darin found:
“The fundamental design of those who control the Soviet Union and the international communist movement is to retain and solidify their absolute power, first in the Soviet Union and second in the areas now under their control. In the minds of the Soviet leaders, however, achievement of this design requires the dynamic extension of their authority and the ultimate elimination of any effective opposition to their authority.
The design, therefore, calls for the complete subversion or forcible destruction of the machinery of government and structure of society in the countries of the non-Soviet world and their replacement by an apparatus and structure subservient to and controlled from the Kremlin. To that end Soviet efforts are now directed toward the domination of the Eurasian land mass. The United States, as the principal center of power in the non-Soviet world and the bulwark of opposition to Soviet expansion, is the principal enemy whose integrity and vitality must be subverted or destroyed by one means or another if the Kremlin is to achieve its fundamental
IV. The Underlying Conflict in the Realm of ideas and Values between the U.S. Purpose and the Kremlin Design
A. NATURE OF CONFLICT
The Kremlin regards the United States as the only major threat to the conflict between idea of slavery under the grim oligarchy of the Kremlin, which has come to a crisis with the polarization of power described in Section I, and the exclusive possession of atomic weapons by the two protagonists. The idea of freedom, moreover, is peculiarly and intolerably subversive of the idea of slavery. But the converse is not true. The implacable purpose of the slave state to eliminate the challenge of freedom has placed the two great powers at opposite poles. It is this fact which gives the present polarization of power the quality of crisis.”
Now all this isn’t absolutely untrue. But it’s not true, either, and it never was. The Soviet Union under Stalin and then Kruschev was an aggressive adversary, killed millions of its own people, tried to expand its sphere of influence and ruthlessly suppressed dissent when it could. “Grim oligarchy” isn’t entirely untrue. But “slavery” isn’t true. The U.S. persistently and systematically overestimated both Soviet ambitions and capabilities, especially military capabilities.
The USSR and the US were allies in WW II after all. Stalin’s aim of “competitive partnership,” 236. He was paranoid, but he also ruled a country devastated by war.
What if the US had given him signals that didn’t fuel his paranoia to such a degree? What if Henry Wallace had succeeded Roosevelt, instead of Truman?
At any rate, mutual paranoia became a self-reinforcing system. Maps like this http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/coldwar1.htm were in newspapers, along with all sorts
of articles about the Communist threat and Soviet atrocities. McCarthy claimed he had a list of “known Communist agents” within the government. People with long-distant or only vague connections to leftist groups and causes were fired, blacklisted, sometimes jailed.
One more quote: ” For the free society does not fear, it welcomes, diversity. It derives its strength from its hospitality even to antipathetic ideas. It is a market for free trade in ideas, secure in its faith that free men will take the best wares, and grow to a fuller and better realization of their powers in exercising their choice.”
Considerably ironic in light of 50s conformity.
The other fronts: Central and Eastern Europe, the long militarized stalemate of the Iron Curtain. And the race for nuclear weapons (and others). Mutually Assured Destruction and missile gaps and all of that. And the competition in the “Third World,” in which the U.S. efforts to oppose “communism” led us repeatedly to support repressive and corrupt right-wing governments and to oppose revolutionary people’s movements fighting for national independence. Yes, this is ironic.
Vietnam as the largest example and the largest failure of this rigid anticommunist policy. Ho Chi Minh was, in many ways, more like George Washington than like Lenin; at any point during the war he would probably have won a free election in South Vietnam. The U.S. essentially took over from France as colonial power. . . . But we’ll talk more about this later.
Effects of Cold War: militarization, polarization, cultural splits, narrowing of genuine options and possibilities of debate. With the end of the draft, a military largely staffed by those under economic pressure, esp. at lower ranks; essentially, we have a poverty draft, while middle-class people are exempt.
Economic costs of guns over butter; military spending does provide jobs, but it’s a wildly inefficient way of bettering living standards, because everything that’s produced either just sits there or gets blown up. Figure a thousand bucks a year, every year of your life, for everybody that you know. What could you do with that $70,000 if it wasn’t going to the military? What could we do next year with $387 billion? Bluffton College runs on roughly $23,100,000. In other words, we could run 16,753 Bluffton Colleges for what it costs to run the military for a year . . .
I choose this site because it involved an interview with the first nine African American students that integrated Central High School.
www.archives.state.al.us/govs_list/g_wallac.html On George Wallace.
Owing to it, you can learn about various legal claims made by black people. Besides, you can also get some info about a wide range of actions in the 50s,e.g. about the events in Montgomery.
The website I have chose is basically a timeline of the civil rights movement starting at Brown Vs. Topeka all the way to the present efforts. It also gives alternate sites at the end which look interesting.
http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/nsc-68/nsc68-1.htm National Security Council document 68.
http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/rosenb/ROSENB.HTM is a website about the Rosenberg trial. What haunts me is that from what I know about what happened there are some holes to the story and they may have not been guilty. I just wonder if the threat of communism sent the government on a witch hunt.
http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/trudoc.htm This is the speech that Truman gave before congress about the threat of communism and what should be done to stop it from growing.