Hidden History: The Great Depression, Henry Ford and Detroit’s Unemployed Workers Councils

1929 The Great Depression Part 1 – A Job At Ford’s

PBS (1993)

Film Review

This is Part 1 of a fascinating 7-part PBS series on the Great Depression, one of the many topics Americans never study in school. The series reveals much hidden history unfavorable to the ruling elite – I doubt that PBS would air documentaries this honest in the current political landscape.

This first episode examines the rapid US industrialization of the 1920s, exemplified by the stellar growth of Ford Motor Company.

Henry Ford’s goal in perfecting assembly line manufacturing was to produce Model T’s so cheaply they would cost less than a team of horses. Ford’s River Rouge complex in Detroit was the largest industrial plant in history, employing 50,000 workers and producing 6,000 cars per day. The availability of credit, another new phenomenon, to purchase cars and other durable goods also played a major role in post-World War I expansion.

Squeezing Workers to Cut Costs

By paying the unprecedented wage of $5/hour, Ford attracted workers from all over the US and Mexico. Over time, however, he cut the hourly wage and sped up the assembly line to further reduce costs. He also created an extremely repressive private security force that relied on 9,000 worker/informants to weed out employees who couldn’t keep up or expressed anger and/or frustration with the speed-ups.

Detroit’s Unemployed Workers Councils

Following the Wall Street crash in October, 1929, the US was the only industrialized country without a government safety net (eg unemployment insurances, old age pensions, welfare benefits, etc) for the millions of Americans who lost their jobs. President Hoover believed the solution to the Great Depression was to increase business investment (and production)* and called on charities and local government to provide relief for homeless and starving families.

The city of Detroit provided relief to destitute families for over a year but ran out of money as unemployment climbed from 20 to 50% in 1930. It climbed to 80% in August 1931, when Ford closed his factory and laid off 60,000 workers.

Assisted by Communist Party organizers, Detroit’s unemployed workers formed a dozen unemployed workers councils, which organized marches and rallies demanding jobs, unemployment compensation and protection against evictions.** The councils also organized direct actions to block sheriff’s officers from removing families’ furniture from their home.

In March 1932, 3,000 unemployed workers organized a hunger march on the Ford factory. In addition to using fire hoses to spray them with freezing water, local police and Ford’s private security force shot 25 of them (many in the back). Four, including a New York Times photographer died instantly.

Ford’s Anti-Semitism

This episode also explores Ford’s anti-Semitic writings in the Dearborn Independent and his book The International Jew, as well as the mutual admiration he and Adolph Hitler shared. It fails to mention the considerable direct and indirect assistance Ford provided the Third Reich in rebuilding the German military machine. See Ford and the Fuhrer

*Hoover’s views flew in the face of most economists, who viewed the Great Depression as a crisis in overproduction and under-consumption.

**At the height of the depression, 150 Detroit families were evicted everyday and someone died of starvation every seven hours.

The Middle Ages: More Hidden History

Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages

By Frances and Joseph Gies

Harper Collins (1994)

Book Review

This book debunks the prevailing misconception that the Middle Ages was a Dark Ages and that all knowledge and technology was lost when “barbarian tribes” caused the collapse of the Roman Empire. The authors do this very convincingly by identifying a number of key medieval technologies (most from the Far East) without which the 15th century Renaissance would have been impossible.

These include

  • the heavy plow
  • open field agriculture, water powered machinery
  • Hindu-Arab numerals
  • double entry bookkeeping
  • the compass and navigational charts
  • clockwork
  • firearms
  • moveable type
  • stirrups
  • the horse collar harness
  • paper
  • canal locks
  • underground mining

The barbarians themselves (ie Germanic tribes) also provided European civilization with several key inventions:

  • soap (the Greeks and Romans never used it)
  • socks
  • laced boots
  • clothing made from multiple pieces of cloth sewn together
  • wooden barrels (replacing fragile clay jars and animal skins previously used for food storage).

The book maintains that China was far more important than Rome as a source of medieval technologies. In most cases, technological innovations filtered into Europe along Arab trade routes. It devotes specific attention to the horizontal loom (the Romans used a vertical loom), moveable type (adopted by Gutenberg for his printing press), the water wheel, the wheelbarrow, the odometer, mechanical clocks, gunpowder and the crossbow.

Europeans gained access to Hindu-Arab numbers, the cotton gin and the windmill via India and Persia.

Given the extremely Eurocentric education I received in school, I was extremely surprised to learn about all the inventions Europeans take credit for which originated elsewhere.




We’re Still Here Ya Bastards

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt Their City

by Roberta Brandes Gratz

Nation Books (2014)

Book Review

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards is a remarkable account of how a loose knit network of citizens groups and organizations fought FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), city hall and the state of Louisiana to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the BP Oil Spill (2010). The grassroots rebuilding effort happened despite a federal/state/city conspiracy to use the storm (and flood) to rid New Orleans of black residents.

Prior to Katrina and the levee failure that flooded 80% of the city,* New Orleans was 67% black. Initially 250,000 of New Orleans 485,000 residents were forced to relocate to other cities and states. Thanks to grassroots efforts, by 2015 81% had returned – despite the best efforts of officials in charge of the recovery effort.

Specific examples of FEMA/city policies to discourage black evacuees from returning:

  • Unlike other areas, (mainly black) Lower Ninth War residents were forced to wait four months before they were allowed to return to their flooded properties.**
  • Homes in low income areas, in many cases, were red-tagged for demolition without notifying owners.
  • All New Orleans public housing was demolished, even though only one public housing building was slightly damaged, and FEMA funds were fraudulently funneled to private developers to build market rate housing.
  • Despite being returned to full function by volunteers, Charity Hospital was closed, with FEMA funds being channeled to build a new hospital serving private patients.
  • All New Orleans teachers were fired (in violation of the union contract) to enable the replacement of the Black middle class who previously ran the city schools with a white out-of-state corporate elite and publicly funded, privately run charter schools.
  • “Predatory demolition,” in which many poor residents were deliberately misinformed they had to demolish their homes due to “black mold.”
  • Systematic refusal of FEMA, insurance companies and Road Home*** to pay homeless residents enough to rebuild their homes.

The coming together of local and out-of-state volunteers and wealthy benefactors to assist New Orleans residents to rebuild and/or rehabilitate their homes is incredibly inspiring. The best known benefactor was actor Brad Pitt, who funded the construction of 150 sustainable, solar-power homes in the Lower Ninth Ward.

*Contrary to mainstream media reports, Katrina was a man-made disaster stemming from flawed construction (by the Army Corps of Engineers) of the city’s levees. Katrina was only a category 3 hurricane – not a category 4-5 as was widely reported.

**Despite its working class character, 60% of Lower Ninth residents were homeowners, the highest proportion in the city.

***Road Home is a federally funded disaster relief program administered by Louisiana.











Revisiting NATO Atrocities in Yugoslavia

Why? Revisiting NATO Atrocities in Yugoslavia

RT (2014)

Film Review

This documentary is about the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. The nightly bombing went on for 78 days and killed 2,000 civilians, including 88 children. Most Americans are totally unaware of this shameful chapter in US history. Despite claims to the contrary NATO bombers clearly targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure, destroying more than 300 schools, factories and hospitals. Bill Clinton’s political justification for the bombing was “regime change,” ie the ouster of the “vicious dictator” Milosevic.

The film intersperses interviews with grieving survivors with bizarre clips from US mainstream media coverage.

Clinton’s bombing campaign on Yugoslavia constitutes a war crime as it was never approved by the UN Security Council. Russia and China both indicated they would veto a Security Council resolution – in retaliation NATO forces bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

Report by US Journalist Who Witnessed Russian Revolution


Ten Days That Shook the World

by John Reed (1919)

Book Review

Free ebook link: https://www.marxists.org/archive/reed/1919/10days/10days/

Unlike Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution (see What We Didn’t Learn About the Russian Revolution in School), which begins with the February (1917) revolution, Ten Days that Shook the World begins in August 1917, with General Kornilov’s unsuccessful attempt to make himself dictator of Russia. Reed, an American journalist covering the Russian Revolution for the socialist journal The Masses, also writes in detail about the bloody counterrevolution that tried to displace the new Soviet government.

Owing to superior numbers and strict discipline enforced by Trotsky’s Military Revolutionary Committee, the revolution in which the Bolsheviks seized power was virtually bloodless (three people were killed in the storming of the Winter Palace). It was only with the counterrevolution launched by Kerensky, the Cossacks, Junkers* and White Guards that significant loss of life occurred.

Far more harmful to the new regime was the economic sabotage engineered by banks and landowners, determined to deprive the new regime of the money, food and fuel they needed to operate.

The Counterrevolution

The Military Revolutionary Committee mobilized nearly the entire civilian population to dig trenches and build barricades against Kerensky’s** attempted assault on Petrograd. Twenty-five Red Guards were killed in this battle and 200-300 captured. Bolshevik leaders eventually neutralized Kerensky’s Cossack troops by promising to redistribute the lands of large Cossack landowners.

The shops in Petrograd were closed for three days before the Red Guards reasserted military control. Fighting in Moscow lasted six days and losses were much higher (500 Red Guards were killed).

Economic Sabotage

The economic sabotage was much more difficult to address. All the bureaucrats running the government ministries went on strike when the Bolsheviks democratically won power in the Second Congress of Soviets on October 26 (see What We Didn’t Learn About the Russian Revolution in School). Bank clerks, telephone operators and postal and telegraph workers also went on strike rather than serve the new Soviet government. In addition, food speculators illegally removed large (two years worth) grain stockpiles from Petrograd warehouses. While other speculators illegally secreted Petrograd’s coal stores.

The Bolsheviks countered the strikes mainly by mobilizing massive public outrage again the strikers through decrees they published in Pravda and numerous leaflets and pamphlets. The strikes ended with the military defeat of the counterrevolutionary forces – which ended financial support of the strikers by bankers and other businessmen.

The new Bolshevik government addressed the food shortages by arresting speculators, by sending out bands of armed sailors to seize more than 20 tons of grain from warehouses, barges and railroad terminals, and by sending trainloads of iron and cloth to barter with Siberian peasants for grain and potatoes.

They eventually resolved the coal shortage when Baltic Fleet sailors liberated 30,000 tons of coal no longer needed for the war effort.***

*The Junkers and White Guards were armed militia organized by wealthy landowners.

**Kerensky was the deposed leader of the Provisional Government installed following the February revolution.

***One of the first acts of the new Bolshevik government was to withdraw Russian forces from World War I.

How Western Capitalists Nearly Stole Tetris from the Soviets

Tetris – From Russia with Love

Directed by Magnus Temple (2004)

Film Review

Tetris is a documentary about the fiendishly addictive 1980s computer game, the Soviet programmer who created it and the shrewd Soviet bureaucrat who prevented late media mogul Robert Maxwell and Atari from stealing the rights to it.

Alexey Pajitnov at the Moscow Computer Center created Tetris in 1985, based on a popular Soviet puzzle for children. He and colleagues immediately recognized its addictive potential – it was impossible to stop playing once you started.

As it spread like a virus (from computer to computer) across the Soviet block, an enterprising Hungarian entrepreneur named Robert Stein sold it to the computer games division of Robert Maxwell’s media empire. They, in turn, sold it to Atari for use on their video game console. It was only when a Japanese businessman named Henk Rogers went to Moscow to seek the right to use it on hand held Game Boys that the Soviets realized their invention had been ripped off by greedy capitalists.

The documentary reveals how a cagey Soviet bureaucrat Nikolai Belikov shrewdly played off Maxwell, Atari and Nintendo against one another. Nintendo eventually wound up with both the video game and the Game Boy rights. By 2004, Nintendo had sold 8 million Tetris cartridges for their game console. Tetris has also been directly responsible for the sale of 70 million Game Boys.

In 1991, Pajitnov quit his job at Moscow Computer Center and moved to Seattle to work on developing computer games. He spent four years trying to start his own company. In 1995 he went to work for Microsoft.

In 1991, Maxwell mysteriously disappeared after ripping off his company’s pension fund.

If you’ve never tried Tetris you Play it for free (at your own risk) at http://www.freetetris.org/game.php. Be advised it’s just as addictive as it ever was.

Hidden History: The 1973 Arab-Israeli War

The War in October

Al Jazeera (2013)

Film Review

The War in October is a three-part documentary series about the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War – aka the Yom Kippur War. What struck me most about the series is how markedly it differs from what we read in the Western media (which was embedded with Israeli troops) and what Americans are taught in school.

Part I provides the background of the war – an agreement by Syrian ruler Hafez al-Assad’s (Bashar’s father) agreement with Egyptian ruler Anwar Sadat to simultaneously attack Israel to reclaim territory each had lost to Israel (the Syrian Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula) in the 1967 war.

Part 1 reveals that both Syria and Egypt came close to reconquering their lost territory within the first 24 hours of their attack. They both failed, mainly owing to Assad’s and Sadat’s refusals to follow their generals’ advice.

Part 2 covers the major reversals Syria and Egypt experienced following the full mobilization of Israeli reserves. Israeli troops seized territory within Egypt to within 100 km of Cairo. Their tanks also penetrated deeply into Syria, until they were beaten back by reinforcements from Iraq and Jordan.

Part 3 is the most interesting, as it covers the role Henry Kissinger played, not only in providing Israel with critical military hardware, but in encouraging them to disregard two ceasefires ordered by the UN Security Council.

After the Soviet Union threatened to enforce the second ceasefire militarily, Kissinger (and Israel) eventually capitulated.

However the most effective tool in the 1973 war was the oil embargo launched by all Arab oil producing nations. International pressure forced Israel to withdraw from Egyptian and Syrian territory and accep deployment of UN peacekeeping troops in buffer zones east of the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights.

In a side agreement, Sadat agreed to release 230 Israeli prisoners of war in return for Kissinger’s pledge to negotiate a treaty leading to Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai. Signed in 1979, the treaty resulted in full withdrawal of Israeli troops in 1982 – a year after Sadat’s assassination.