Book Review:

Hochschild, Adam, “American Midnight. The Great War, a Violent Peace, and America’s Great Crisis.” Mariner Books, 2022

I found a free Kindle copy through the Dallas public library’s “Libby” service. Now I wish I had a hard copy because of the facts in this history of America from 1917 to around 1924. You could call it the Red Scare. You could call it the most shameful period after the Civil War. Or you could call it a warning about today and tomorrow.

This book changed my view of the period. Previously, I thought that government had simply allowed vigilantes to run amok — arresting, assaulting, and lynching just about anybody they chose. That was bad enough. Having reach Hochschild, I now realize that government was not just standing aside, they were actually fomenting, cooperating, and leading the nastiest gangs of racists they could find. Nearly all the spying was done by government hires. The worst of the mass acts of repression came directly from government agencies.

One might think that the Justice Department would have stood for justice, but they were probably the worst perpetrators. A lot of the worst assaults were called the Palmer raids, after Attorney General Palmer. After them came, probably, the armed forces; but many government offices were in on it, including the post office! J. Edgar Hoover, notorious race baiter, union hater, and all around sociopath, made his chops in the period. We were stuck with him for another 50 years!

Near the end of the book, Hochschild tries to tote up the numbers of people killed, horsewhipped, imprisoned, deported or otherwise deprived of life and liberty, but it’s a hopeless task. Besides, he’s basically talking only of federal cases. All the nasty things that happened at state and local levels would probably have doubled or tripled the size of the book. Then there’s the non-government participation of anti-union bosses and ideologically-driven racists and nativists to consider!

The rationale for the horrors began when Woodrow “He Kept Us Out of War” Wilson was re-elected in 1916. A lot of Americans, including the growing Socialist Party and some of the members of the Industrial Workers of the World, strongly opposed the war. The repression was originally released against anybody who did not want to join the bloodfest. But why, anyone might ask, did it continue after the end of the war and well into the 1920s? The excuse used most was Bolshevism, but the targets were American working people.

There are a couple of things I would have liked to have found in this account. The Greencorn Rebellion in Southeastern Oklahoma was an early expression of anti-war feelings among sharecroppers, including whites, Blacks, and Natives. I would also have appreciated an attempt to go beyond tallying assaults, deportations, imprisonments, and murders just to find out how many workers lost their jobs during this awful period. Of all the terrible things that government and employers do to workers, the most widely applied, and thus the most effective, is to deprive us of the ability to earn a living.

Hochschild clearly condemns certain government officials. He leaves the final judgement of President Wilson open to debate. He gives some credit to “good guys” such as Emma Goldman, Kate Richards O’Hare and of course Eugene Victor Debs. He mentions Frank Little, one of the first anti-war spokespersons lynched. William Z. Foster, who worked through the whole period to try to bring the labor movement together and develop its fighting potential, remains hidden in our histories.

I have always found it interesting to speculate what might have happened in America if different leaders had headed the Socialist Party, the IWW, or the AFofL. Worldwide, the many socialists capitulated early and supported their governments in World War I. There were only two that didn’t. The other one was Russia.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON.org’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. I have about 150 podcasts under the name “Workers Beat Extra” there, too. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Film Review: “In Dubious Battle,” Directed by James Franco, 1917

Movie Review

“In Dubious Battle,” directed by James Franco, 1917

Prime video still has “In Dubious Battle” for a few more days. It’s an interesting and progressive film with a strong pro-worker attitude.

Jim and Mac are farm worker organizers of the Industrial Workers of the World in 1933. Even though the fighting Wobblies were largely crushed in most industries by the red scare during and after World War I, their Agricultural Department outlasted all their other fine efforts. Pulitzer winner John Steinbeck wrote the book around 1937 based on strikes and labor battles in California. It isn’t as well known as his “Of Mice and Men,” nor “Grapes of Wrath,” but it’s about the same people: itinerant farm workers of the Great Depression.

Mac is the old hand. He’s rather cynical as he teaches the neophyte Jim how to focus on agitating a battle to the exclusion of any other considerations. They take jobs as apple pickers in order to encourage the downtrodden workers to rise up and fight their exploiting bosses. In that regard, the film is quite inspirational and really sounds close to what really happened.

Actually, I kind of hope it isn’t what really happened, because the bosses and their hired terrorists seem to get and keep the upper hand. I watched the film with a genuine union organizer with real experience, and she had severe criticisms of the way the strike was begun and handled.

As art, though, the film is pretty good. I don’t know how the producers were able to do it, but they assembled quite an assortment of headliners in the main speaking parts. We spotted Selena Gomez, Vincent D’Onofrio, Robert Duvall, Sam Shepard, Ed Harris and Bryan Cranston. James Franco directed himself in the main role.

The result is a film that is fine for inspiration, but not for learning organizing tactics. If there were real people like Mac and Jim, they should have learned this: it is not sufficient to fight. It is also necessary to win!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON.org’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9 Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Book Review:

Pearson, Chad E., “Capital’s Terrorists. Klansmen, Lawmen and Employers in the Long Nineteenth Century.” University of North Carolina Press, 2022

Pearson brings us a new understanding of America’s terrorists. From April 9, 1865 to January 6, 2022, our terrorists were not primarily motivated by race hatred or stupidity, as we are usually told. Instead, they were instruments organized, and often physically led, by America’s employer class. Big capital used the most shameful events in all of American history to one end: keeping working families down.

Pearson starts with the Ku Klux Klan. They weren’t just random racists. They were deliberately organized and carefully led to force former slaves to work for little or nothing. They still are. Later organizations may have been called “Law and Order Leagues,” or “Citizens’ Alliances,” but they continued to use vigilantes when it suited them. Their purpose was exactly the same: making sure that working families could not successfully organize.

Even though employers could usually county on judges, local police, national guards and even the U.S. Army to side with them, they also found it expedient to organize illegal terrorist activities. That’s what the book is about.

Pearson organizes his explanation with biographical information on the main ideologues for employer terrorism. One of the worst was a newspaper owner; another was a best-selling author of fiction. Both were expert propagandists justifying all legal and extralegal means available to keep workers down.

For us in Dallas, there are some local angles to the story. Martin Irons was a great union man who was ruined and martyred by the terrorists. He called the 1885 Southwest Railroad Strike during a convention in nearby Sherman. His grave is in Bruceville, halfway to Austin, where he died in poverty.

Except for some very good analysis of the January 6 attack on the nation’s capitol, the book limits itself to the 19th century. If it were brought a few years closer to today, it might have talked about Henry Ford’s “Service Department” of goons and criminals that maimed and murdered union supporters on behalf of the company.  

There are several accounts of Harry Bennett and Henry Ford’s “Service Department” of goons, criminals and murderers. https://www.salon.com/2014/06/01/henry_fords_reign_of_terror_greed_and_murder_in_depression_era_detroit/

Another account mentions a ex-wrestler named Fats Perry in the late 1930s. https://books.google.com/books?id=MJJOl7SMWIoC&pg=PA172&lpg=PA172&dq=Fats+Perry&source=bl&ots=7WajZJonOm&sig=ACfU3U3_OvtR3dgVWul8wuROQxLia1vfBQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiK7bjN5Zz7AhV2lGoFHUs6CZQQ6AF6BAhTEAM#v=onepage&q=Fats%20Perry&f=false.

Perry and a handful of other gangsters were fired from Ford’s East Dallas assembly plant on suspicion of theft. They complained to the newly-formed National Labor Relations Board, where a young attorney named Nat Wells wrote down their testimony. They told Wells about kidnapping, tar and feathering, and whipping suspected union organizers on behalf of Ford. They indicated that they had plenty of help from local police and the Dallas Morning News. Wells wrote it all down and it became part of the United Auto Workers’ legal action against Ford Motor Company – and that played a big role in the UAW’s successful organizing drive in 1941, four years after their triumph at General Motors. Thanks to Joe Wells and Dr George Green for keeping this story in our histories.

Dr Chad Pearson teaches history at University of North Texas in Denton. I intend to interview him for my podcast as soon as I can get his contact information.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON.ORG’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, you might look at my personal web site

Just to boil everything down to its essence, only two slogans are sufficient to mobilize the mass movement and change the world:

Tax the Rich!

Stop the Wars!

Here in the United States, we achieved a relatively high degree of democracy by 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was implemented. I say “relatively” to mean that our democracy was better than it had ever been. It took centuries of struggle to get that good. Since those days, democracy has been chiseled off some, but it’s still a lot better than it was than, say, when lynching was common and accepted.

The big deficiencies in our democracy have to do with 1) economics and 2) foreign policy. The ordinary person has very little say-so about either one, and never has. The bosses who run America reserve economic and foreign policy decisions for themselves. We don’t get a vote about fiscal or monetary policy, and we don’t get a vote about who to bomb next. If we did, we’d be qualitatively better off. “We,” meaning working families. “They,” meaning the bosses, would be worse off. In fact “they” would no longer be the ruling class.

The Russians had three slogans in 1917: “Bread, Land, and Peace.” Those were really good slogans for them in those days and they worked. But “bread” isn’t synonymous with “economic well being” nowadays. “Land” isn’t the dream of modern workers who left their farms generations ago. “Peace” is still a good slogan, but it doesn’t cover the proxy wars that imperialism is sponsoring all over the globe. Many Americans probably think that our nation is at “peace” now.

“Tax the rich” is the solution to economic inequality. Since the relatively “good” economic days of 1935-1947, inequality has steadily worsened. The bosses cut their own taxes, cut our social spending, and raised our taxes. Their money just keeps piling up. The current economic crisis in the United States, a looming recession, could be resolved quickly and easily with a change in fiscal policy, but instead the bosses are using monetary policy to squeeze the job market. In other words, working families are being sacrificed on the altar of capitalist greed. “Tax the rich” would end the threat of recession while ending the headlong rush to total inequality.

“Stop the wars” would give working families some power over the military-industrial complex. That’s power that we do not have today. The bosses like to be able to foment wars whenever they want, because that way they can keep other nations economically subservient to them. Case in point: while Russians and Ukrainians are dying by the thousands, American military producers and American oil companies are enjoying a bonanza. When it’s all over, American oil companies will have a lot of the markets that the Russians used to have, and the Russians and Ukrainians still living will have diddledy squat.

As important as these two slogans are to working families, they are just as important to the bosses who currently enjoy exclusive economic and military power. Making a change would be difficult, but clarity on our side would help.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON.org’s “Workers Beat” program at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

“Argentina 1985” is a good film streaming on Amazon Prime. It is about the trial of the dictators who ran Argentina’s Dirty War. If you can get over the fact that it’s dubbed (pretty well) and you like courtroom dramas, you’ll like this one. There’s a lot to be learned, but great questions still need to be answered:

  1. How does fascism come about?

2. How does fascism end, as it clearly can and does

3. Why?

Writers across the world, including me, are warning that fascism is approaching. Even the President of the United States recently joined in the same caution. Such scholarly articles as can be seen at https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d9c0/3a042dd7f1bf8ffbd0096c2eed88a0403600.pdf warn us that fascism is approaching on a world-wide basis.

Scholars almost always study the fascism of Italy and Germany that ended in ruins during World War II. That is one way that fascism might end, but not the only way. I’ve seen very little reference to fascist governments since WWII. Undoubtedly, fascism in Germany and Italy owed much to the support of Western Imperialism. In that respect, they are similar to the fascist governments that arose in Spain, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and other countries. But those latter nations survived fascism and returned to limited democracy. Why don’t we study them?

I am curious about those latter countries’ experience with fascism because they apparently survived it and returned to the kind of limited capitalist democracy that they had before and, for that matter, is similar to what the United States has had since its inception: limited capitalist democracy. Working people are “free” to vote and to do a good many other things, but not to control the economy nor foreign policy.

And yet we continue to talk about fascism as a one-way street to destruction, as it was in the classic examples of Italy and Germany. Why don’t we know anything about fascism as a transitory form of government as it clearly was in, for example, Chile?

My Best Solution to the Riddle

Fascism In Germany and Italy were created and then destroyed by western imperialism. Their driving force was to overcome the progressive forces, primarily the communists who had been inspired by the Soviet revolution of 1917. Similarly, western imperialism is responsible for initiating fascism in Chile and other countries that, later on, returned to one form or another of limited capitalist democracy.

Fascist Rule is a Conscious Choice

Like almost all riddles concerning social progress, this one can only be solved with class analysis. None of the fascist governments came about by revolutions. That is, there was never a change in the class that ruled. Fascism is just one form of capitalist class rule. In fact, fascism cannot come about without the ruling capitalist class consciously choosing it. That’s the answer to the first question: a necessary requirement for fascism is that the capitalists must choose it as their form of government.

Mussolini defined fascism as “corporatism.” Hitler could never have come to power without the backing of the ruling class of capitalists.

Ending Fascist Rule is Also a Conscious Choice

If a ruling capitalist class can consciously choose to rule with fascism, they can also consciously decide to discontinue it. And that is what happened in Spain, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and the other countries in this discussion. That’s the answer to the second question: fascism ended the same way it began — as a conscious decision of the capitalist class. Why, one might legitimately ask, would they opt for fascism in the first place? The answer is the same as in Germany and Italy: they chose fascism to avoid the extension of democracy under socialism. When democracy threatens to exceed its limits, the ruling class reacts.

Why, then, would they choose, once the immediate democratic threat is lessened, to discontinue fascist rule? Because authoritarian regimes make for inefficient economies. Limited democracy and capitalism worked together to build the most powerful economies that the world had ever known. That’s why they easily conquered all previous forms of government and came to rule the world. Authoritarian governments, where the population is basically forced to work for the state, may be able to build powerful war economies, but only temporarily. To the extent that workers are not enslaved, but “free labor,” or at least if workers believe themselves to be “free,” economies thrive.

Other Considerations

Here, I set out only to answer the question “Why have some nations survived fascism?” I did not set out to discuss the implosion of the Soviet Union. But one might ask if the Soviet Union might have lived up to its potential if it had not been forced by imperialist war threats to adopt an authoritarian stance over its government and, more unfortunately, its economy.

And consider China today. China seems to be balancing a market economy with a socialist government. The economic results, so far, are better than any previous socialist revolution has been able to achieve. One might even argue that the Chinese approach of socialist rule with limited economic democracy is proving itself superior to limited capitalist democracy.

Summary

But understanding the USSR and China are far beyond my ambitions. I simply want to make these two critical points: 1) Fascism is a form of rule that is sometimes chosen by capitalists and 2) Nations have survived fascism, once the threat of “excessive” democracy is past.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON.org “Workers Beat” radio talk show at 9AM Central Time ever Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, you might look at my personal web site.

Book Review: Horne, Gerald, “The Counter Revolution of 816: Texas Slavery & Jim Crow and the Roots of U.S. Fascism.” International Publishers, 2022. Available through Amazon Books

University of Houston Professor Gerald Horne has created a book that must be read. I wholeheartedly recommend it, but that doesn’t make it an easy read.

I believe there is a long-awaited tendency toward truth in Texas history. Most of us have only seen the bleached and romanticized version. It makes great romantic heroes of all the “revolutionary” “founders” of the state. Everyone who can read knows it isn’t true. If they were really such wonderful people, why did they prominently feature slavery in their first constitution?

As far as I know, though, the new revisionist histories lead up gradually to the truth and don’t actually denounce any of the Texas “heroes” before their conclusions. Gerald Horne starts there. The “founders” of Texas are ratfink landgrabbers devoted to genocide for natives and enslavement for Africans from page one.

“Father of Texas” Austin wasn’t a saint trying to find homes for poor settlers. A slave owner himself, he worked constantly and consistently to overcome his host country’s ban against slavery. He was the slaveocracy’s front man. The ones who followed were no less committed to slavery and even more bloodthirsty in its pursuit.

As for the Natives, there were only two ideological trends in Texas: the few “liberals” wanted to put them all into bantusland reservations as in apartheid South African; the majority, including President Mirabeau Lamar, wanted to kill every last one of them. Mexican Americans received little more consideration. The Texas Rangers were an equestrian version of Murder, Inc.

From the first white settlers until modern times, Texas history is a story of lynching and genocide. For good measure, Horne throws in some little-known truths about Oklahoma and the states that were created after the greatest land grab — usually known as the Mexican War.

Most white Texans supported secession from Mexico. Many of them coveted even more Mexican land and only reluctantly joined the United States when forced by economic circumstances. Nearly all of them supported seceding from the union over the slavery issue in 1860. Their contributions to the Confederacy exceeded every state except, possibly, Virginia. After General Lee surrendered in 1865, many Texans moved to Mexico where they supported the French imperialist forces under “Emperor” Maximillian because they hoped to re-start the Civil War with France on their side.

The total destruction of previous Texas histories is one reason that “The Counter Revolution of 1836” is hard reading. Texas history as we have known it is deservedly turned inside-out! The other reason comes from Horne’s writing style. A few pages into the 575-page opus, the reader starts hoping that Horne will run out of obscure pejoratives to describe early Texans, but he doesn’t. He rarely employs a sentence that wouldn’t diagram as compound/complex. Because he has assembled so many quotes from so many sources, he hop-scotches from one to the other so quickly that it’s not always easy to remember what point he was making.

The book has a tremendous list of resources. Oddly, I did not find Randolph Campbell’s “An Empire for Slavery” among them. Possibly, Campbell may have been too easy on Texas.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON.org with “Workers Beat” every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Would you help me write a futuristic novel about what happens after the revolution? Help me speculate about what Commissioner Leo Torres does after his election to the World Council chartered to develop a model for future living and human happiness.

Unlike most American Sci-Fi, there is no dystopian end-of-the-world in this one. Thinking people have managed to stop all the current trends toward certain annihilation. A coalition of the Progressive Party and the Green Party has wrested control from the old economic rulers. All the people who are still alive after the devastation caused by our current system have a chance to meet their basic needs.

Leo Torres was a very minor figure in the Progressive Party during the revolutionary days. By a fluke of time and place, he achieved great popularity, or possibly notoriety. In his first novel, the Progressive Party leaders asked him to take on the title of “Commissioner” and resolve a very minor problem in an obscure part of Oklahoma. In the second novel, he gets a somewhat more complicated assignment, but still minor, in the Texas Panhandle.

Because of his undeserved but considerable popularity, and because he has shown himself to be trustworthy, the Progressives decide to make him a candidate for World Council in the third novel. He learns a few things as he travels the country in his successful campaign. All the preceding novels are on-line at http://lilleskole.us.

Should he take his seat on the World Council?

What priorities should he have?

What assignments or committees will he be assigned?

What laws and legislation would YOU want enacted, if you were in Leo’s place?

Help me out by sending your ideas to genelantz19@gmail.com.

Review of documentary:

Carl Colby, “The Man Nobody Knew.” Netflix. 2011. On Amazon Prime at https://www.amazon.com/Man-Nobody-Knew-Carl-Colby/dp/B017UOITGA

I was surprised to see a biographical documentary of William Colby, CIA spymaster, on Amazon Prime streaming service. Colby was an extremely secretive man. Possibly the only person who could have put together remembrances of him is his son, Carl. Carl remembers him as being capable of more cruelty than anyone he had ever known.

The documentary tries to be favorable. A lot of the favorable testimony comes from his ex-wife, mother of his four children, whom he dumped soon after leaving the CIA in 1975. Others who were important in the State Department in the 1970s, give their kind reminiscences. The facts, however, are too strong to be overcome by good intentions.

Colby joined the intelligence service during World War II. In the aftermath, he was the man with the suitcases of money and connections with the Pope that “saved” Italy from its popular communists. Colby ran the CIA’s involvement in imperialism’s attempt to keep Vietnam from independence. He personally created and directed the Phoenix Program that used mercenaries to torture and murder progressives. He directed the CIA during most of the horrors documented in the book, “Jakarta Program” (reviewed in this blog). A million Indonesians were murdered by imperialism, then the pattern was used to murder progressives in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and other countries.

The documentary alleges that Colby did not agree with imperialism’s heavy-handed military aggression in Vietnam. He thought they could have won with big-money subversion. He may have been right, because imperialism certainly succeeded time and again in overthrowing progressives in Latin America, and it’s doing a jim-dandy job for imperialism in Ukraine today without direct military intervention.

A lot of the documentary is taken up with Colby’s testimony to Congress after Watergate. That’s where the most video was available. Colby admitted to some of the CIA’s atrocities during that period, and the documentary credits him personally for doing it. However, those of us who lived through the period remember that the Watergate period was followed by a series of exposures of horrors by the FBI, CIA, and other mechanisms of imperialism. They didn’t admit to anything that hadn’t already been exposed, and the “reforms” didn’t even last a decade before the so-called “intelligence” people went back to spying on citizens and worldwide murder and torture.

Colby was a cold-eyed monster. After he drowned in a river, his son speculates that he may have been despondent over his career and just “gave up.” I certainly hope so.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. My “Workers Beat Extra” podcasts are on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site

Book Review:

Taylor, Clarence “Reds at the Blackboard. Communism, Civil Rights, and the New York City Teachers Union,” Columbia University Press, 2013.

There once existed a powerful teacher organization that fought for every progressive aspect of education in New York City. The American Federation of Teachers today, which has advanced in social unionism far beyond the bad old days of President Albert Shankar, is still miles behind the Teachers Union of New York of 1935-1964.

They represented teachers with grievances, they fought for better pay and working conditions as unions do, but they also challenged the basic racism and corruption of education in their times. They fought hard, for example, to expose the explicit and implicit racism in textbooks. They did everything they could think of to improve school materials. They fought for integration of students and faculty. They fought just as hard for gender equality.

Their greatest accomplishment may have been to make the schools part of the communities they served. These were not nominal PTA’s holding fund drives, but honest hard-working community organizations working for community improvement — especially among the most downtrodden constituencies.

One important aspect of school racism was new to me. After Brown V Topeka in 1954, the main physical change in education was to shut down all the segregated Black schools and lay off their teachers! Most of those teachers stayed laid-off because they couldn’t get jobs in the so-called “integrated” schools. The Teachers Union of New York fought hard to get jobs for Black teachers! If anybody else did, I hadn’t heard of it.

While they were bringing social unionism to its heights, the Teachers Union had to fight off management’s attempts to undermine it. Male chauvinism and anti-semitism were useful tools for the bosses, but their big cudgel was anti-communism. Social unionism was the Communist Party’s program and a some of the Teachers Union leaders were reds.

Management, like bosses everywhere after 1947, were able to get a lot of people fired and a lot of careers destroyed. The American Federation of Labor kicked the Teachers Union out over anti-communism. They joined the Congress of Industrial Organizations and continued to thrive as social unionists. However, after 1947, the CIO joined the anti-communist wave and kicked the Teachers Union out again. The Board of Education managed to have the Teachers Union decertified as representatives of their members, so they could no longer settle grievances nor negotiate for job improvements.

Even then, they didn’t quit. The Teachers Union survived as an important voice for social unionism, especially for civil rights and community cooperation, until 1964. They need to be remembered.

**

I broadcast on “Workers Beat” on KNON.org at 9AM CT every Saturday. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site