“Populist Stalinism”? Final Episode of In Search of Putin’s Russia

In Search of Putin’s Russian – Part 4 The State of the Arts

Al Jazeera (20150

Film Review

In this final episode, journalist and filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov interviews the director of a film about the 1939 non-aggression pact between Stalin and Hitler; the manager of a fringe theater group that puts on pro-gay, pro-Ukraine and anti-Putin plays; visitors to the last remaining Stalin gulag; attendees at a recent pro-Stalin conference; a Russian ultranationalist who advocates the prosecution of pro-homosexuality, pro-Ukraine, pro-multiculturalism, pro-tolerance, pro-liberal and pro-abortion Russians; and a wealthy Moscow “liberal” who believes that wealthy oligarchs, rather than Putin, are the real power behind the Russian government.

  • 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact – the fact that Stalin and Hitler initially collaborated tends to be suppressed in Russian schools and history books. Yet despite a filmmaker’s refusal to make recommended script changes, the film received full funding from the Russian Cinema Fund.
  • Fringe theater – the theater group specializing in pro-gay, pro-Ukraine and anti-Putin plays talks about a police raid and arbitrary eviction from their premises.
  • Stalin Gulag – the Russian government has destroyed all but one of Stalin’s former Gulags. They have also ended regular festivals that formerly occurred at the one that remains.
  • “Populist Stalinism” – Nekrasov explores a bizarre movement within the Orthodox Church to have Stalin proclaimed a saint.
  • Russian ultranationalism – the Duma, as well as Putin’s ruling United Russia Party, are full of ultranationallist conservatives. The rich liberal Nekrasov interviews regards Putin’s embrace of conservative values as opportunism and pandering to Russia’s unwashed masses.

 

 

Meet Allen Dulles: Fascist Spymaster

Meet Allen Dulles: Fascist Spymaster

James Corbett (2015)

Film Review

A comprehensive biography of infamous CIA director Allen Dulles, this film is a treasure trove of hidden history. Dulles ran the CIA from 1953 until Kennedy fired him (in 1961) over the disastrous CIA invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs.

Prior to watching this documentary, I was unaware of Dulles’ long time collaboration with fascists of all stripes. For example, Dulles

  • (with his brother John Foster Dulles) was a founding member of the corporate elite round table group the Council on Foreign Relations (1921).
  • collaborated with George W’s grandfather Prescott Bush and W Averell Harriman to use Union Bank Company to launder Wall Street monies that financed Hitler’s military arsenal.
  • as a member of the Office of Strategic Services (the CIA’s precursor), served as the primary architect of the program to secretly bring Nazi war criminals to the US – where they became CIA spies, military analysts and space and mind control scientists.
  • with John Foster, represented the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and the United Fruit Company as partners in the powerful Wall Street law firm Cromwell and Sullivan.
  • instigated coups against Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954) as a personal vendetta when their democratically elected leaders acted contrary to the financial interests of corporate clients.
  • as a Warren Commission member following the JFK assassination, demanded records destroyed relating to Oswald’s CIA employment.*

*The order was foiled by a Warren Commission staffer who secretly retained a copy.

 

Hidden History: Roosevelt Opts for Austerity

The Great Depression – Part 7 Arsenal of Democracy

PBS (1993)

Film Review

For me the most significant segment of this final episode concerns the austerity cuts Roosevelt enacted in 1937, in response to business critics who attacked the burgeoning national debt.

As FDR laid off half the workers employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the effects rippled throughout the economy. The stock market crashed in October 1937, even faster than in 1929. Businesses failed in record numbers and unemployment climbed to 20%. Once again, thousands of unemployed Americans were on the brink of starvation.

The 1937-38 depression is known as the “Roosevelt Depression.”

Part 7 also explores the mass migration of indigent Americans to California, under the misguided belief they would find plentiful food and jobs. Like 20 or so other states, California enacted laws to keep out the unemployed. With the help of local residents groups, police patrolled California’s borders for six weeks in 1938. They turned back all newcomers without $10 on their person.

Many of the state’s new migrants were housed in giant federal camps, as there was nowhere else for them to live.

After Eleanor Roosevelt testified to Congress about her fact finding tour to the camp, FDR introduced (and passed) a $5 billion spending bill.

In September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany following the invasion of Poland. By May 1940, Denmark, Norway, Holland and Belgium had fallen to the Nazis and Hitler was bombing the UK.

A year later, FDR initiated the first peace time draft in US history. Jobless men flocked to enlist because there were still no jobs. Forty percent failed their physicals due to lingering health effects of starvation.

A few weeks before the November 1940 presidential election (which he won), FDR authorized $7 billion in military aid to Britain, opening up thousands of jobs in the defense industry.

Yet it would take another three years – and US entry into the war – before the country returned to full employment.

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 Basques: Spain’s Other Separatists

 

The Basque History of the World

by Mark Kurlansky

Penguin (1999)

Book Review

The Basque History of the World is a history of Basqueland, a semi-autonomous region in the Pyrenees straddling the French-Spanish border. Despite the recent declaration of independence by Catalonia, there is surprisingly little attention on historical efforts by Basqueland, to break away from Spanish rule. Like Catalonia Basqueland, which has its own unique language (Eskuera), has been a major industrial and economic powerhouse for the rest of Spain.

Global Mercenaries, Traders, Shipbuilders, Navigators and Bankers

Historically the Basques were traders and mercenary soldiers dating back to the 4th century BC. The Greeks hired them, as did Carthage in their war against Rome. Although Basque was technically “occupied” by the Roman empire for nearly 400 years, the Romans demanded no tribute (taxes) and exerted no military oversight.

In the 7th and 8th century, the Basques became Europe’s leading shipbuilders (which they learned from the Vikings) and iron mongers (which they learned from the Celts). They were the world’s first commercial whalers, establishing whaling stations as far distant as Newfoundland and Labrador. In the 9th century, they also dominated the European trade in salted cod, fishing off Iceland, Norway, Britain, as well as Newfoundland.

Beginning in the 15th century they were sought after by many European explorers (including Columbus and Magellan) as pilots, navigators and seamen.

They were also the first capitalists, financing their shipbuilding via private venture capital. In 1999, when this book was published, they were still global leaders in banking.

Unconquerable

Neither the Moors (in the 8th century) nor King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (in the 15th century) succeeded in conquering Basqueland. Owing to the immense wealth the Basques generated, they paid no duty on foreign goods imported through their ports. Until 1876, they paid no tax to Madrid and were exempt from serving in the Spanish military. French Basqueland fared far worse after the French revolutionary government eliminated France’s three Basque provinces in their campaign to erase ethnic identities.

Spain was so poor when the second Spanish Republic was declared in 1931, only Basqueland and Catalonia (thanks to their strong industrial base) enjoyed a European standard of living. Both regions demanded full autonomy as a condition of supporting the Republic.

Following the successful coup of Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1939, the Basques provided the only organized resistance against his regime. They also played an extremely important role in the French resistance to Hitler’s occupation of France.

Role in Downfall of Franco Dictatorship

In 1973, ETA, the Basque armed militia assassinated Franco’s second in command, and Basque and Catalan leaders began meeting secretly to plan Spain’s transition to democracy.

Franco’s death and the fall of his government in 1975 would prove disastrous for the Basque economy. The dictator had been heavily subsidizing archaic Basque factories, which were totally unable to compete with modern European industries after Spain joined the EU.

In 1998, after uniting with Catalonia to win constitutional guarantees of legislative autonomy (for both Catalonia and Basqueland), ETA unilaterally renounced violence. This followed a 16-year battle with the GAL, an undercover police/paramilitary operation that engaged in extrajudicial assassinations and torture against Basque nationalists.

 

 

 

Spain’s 1936 Revolution – an Anarchist View

Living Utopia: The Anarchists and the Spanish Revolution

Directed by Juan Gamero (1997)

Spanish with English subtitles

 

In this documentary, the history of the 1936 Spanish revolution is told by anarchists* who actually participated in it. What imperialists commonly refer to as the Spanish Civil War, Spanish anarchists refer to as the Spanish revolution. The revolution lasted from 1936-39 before the counterrevolution, led my Franco, Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin (in conjunction with the western powers), overturned it.

The film begins by describing the roots of Spain’s anarchist movement, in Europe’s first workers society, formed in Barcelona in 1840. In 1902, they organized the first free (ie non-Catholic schools) to combat Spain’s high illiteracy rate (50%). In 1910 they formed the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) and won an 8-hour day through a series of major strikes. By 1919, the CNT had a membership of 700,000.

Banned in 1923, the CNT organized in secret, until 1931 when the king was deposed. By this point they had one million members. However 90% of them boycotted the 1934 election. This enabled fascists to take control of the government and reverse most of the land and other reforms enacted by the Republic.

CNT Steps Up to Defend Against Franco’s Coup

In 1936, the CNT united with other Spanish leftist groups to elect a National Front government. Under General Franco, the military’s response was to launch a military coup. Failing to organize any  resistance, the government of the Republic crumbled. Thus it was left up to civilians to organize military resistance to prevent the fall of Madrid – as well as to organize basic survival infrastructure in the territory under their control.

The CNT joined with other resistance forces to form the Anti-Fascist Militias Committee. As volunteer militias marched towards the front line, they assisted rural peasants in bringing in the harvest and expropriating barren land from large landowners to put it into cultivation. A total of 7 million peasants voluntarily formed collectives.

Republic Crumbles Leaving Civilians to Re-organize Society

In the cities and villages, working people seized large buildings to provide lodging for the homeless and set up committees to distribute food, clothing and other necessities and put a halt to revenge killings. In Barcelona, the advance guard of the revolution, 80% of factories were seized by workers. Factory owners either fled or joined the worker-run management teams. Participation in the collectivization scheme was totally voluntary.

All production significantly increased during the revolution, as worker-run committees increased production efficiency and adopted new technology. After seizing Ford, GM and other factories, workers converted them into arms factories. Revolutionary councils coordinated the exchange of commodities between regions and exports, via sympathetic contacts, to other European countries. They also enacted decrees guaranteeing equal rights for women and legalizing abortion.

The Counterrevolution

In May 1937, strengthened by Stalin’s support (the Soviet Union was the only country willing to arm the Spanish Republic against Franco’s coup), the Republican leadership declared war against the anarchists who ran Barcelona when they refused to surrender the telephone exchange. After five days and 500 deaths, Barcelona’s anarchists allowed anarchist ministers who had joined the government to persuade them to accept a ceasefire. According to several interviewees, this was their big mistake and ultimately cost them their revolution.

In view of their vast numerical superiority, it would have made more sense to continue guerilla warfare against both the communists who controlled the government and Franco’s forces.


*Most of the interviewees refer to the movement behind the Spanish revolution as “libertarian” communism,” rather than anarchism.

George Seldes: Fighting the Corporate Takeover of the Press

Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press

Directed by Rick Goldsmith (1996)

Film Review

Tell the Truth and Run is a tribute to muckraking* journalist George Seldes, released shortly after his death at 104. It takes its title from a book Seldes published in 1952. It includes an extensive interview with Seldes at age 98, detailed biographical sketches and commentary by prominent activists, whistleblowers and media reformers (including Ralph Nader, Daniel Ellsberg and Ben Badikian, Victor Navksy and Jeff Cohen) who were influenced by his work.

Born in 1890, Seldes first became a reporter at 18, just as all major dailies were starting to rely on advertisers (instead of readers) for their funding base. As this occurred, investigative journalists seeking to expose government and corporate corruption began writing for the monthly magazines instead. Bankster JP Morgan and other industrial robber barons put an end to this by buying up all the monthly magazines.

Seldes quit his first job at the Pittsburgh Leader after the publisher spiked a story he wrote about the son of a department store magnate who raped a female staff member.

Following an eye opening stint in the US military press corps during World War I, Seldes became a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. He first ran into difficulty at that paper for exposing the violent and corrupt nature of Mussolini’s fascist regime – at a time when the US government and all the major newspapers were pro-Mussolini (owing to banker JP Morgan’s desire to refinance Italy’s World War I debt).

Seldes quit the Tribune in 1927 and published the first two of a series best selling books (You Can’t Print That and Can These Things Be?) based on all his material the Tribune refused to publish between 1918 and 1928.

Between 1940-1950 he put out the weekly newsletter In Fact: An Antidote to Falsehoods in the Daily Press. He would use the newsletter to expose the FBI role in spying on labor unions and  corporate media’s failure to report on 1940s research documenting health problems associated with smoking. He was also the first investigative journalist to expose the role of major Wall Street corporations in supporting Hitler’s rise to power.


* A term applied to American investigative reporters, novelists and critics of the Progressive Era (1890-1930)