Plutocracy III: Class War

Plutocracy III: Class War

Scott Noble (2017)

Film Review

Part 2 of Scott Noble’s Plutocracy series addresses the rise of a US manufacturing elite aristocracy far more vicious and brutal than any hereditary European aristocracy. One hundred years after America’s War of Independence, Wall Street’s robber barons were effectively controlling both state and federal government. They have done so ever since.

The Brutal Repression of Unions

Workers, organized by fledgling labor unions and worker-based political parties (covered extensively in Plutocracy Part II – see Plutocracy II Solidarity Forever), launched massive strikes to fight back against their starvation wages and working conditions. Company bosses fought worker organizing by hiring mercenary armies, such as Pinkertons, to harass, torture and kill organizers. The US was the only industrialized country to allow private corporations to form their own private armies.

It was also common for state National Guard units and federal troops to intervene in strikes and kill striking workers and their families. The documentary highlights the 1914 Ludlow massacre, in which National Guardsmen deliberately shot into and set fire to a strikers’ tent colony, killing two dozen people (including miners’ wives and children).

The film goes on to describe the rise of International Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) a revolutionary union that was the first to represent unskilled workers, women and people of color.

Using a combination of trumped up charges and government-linked vigilante groups, corporate controlled state and federal entities brutally repressed the IWW, both before and after World War I.

How Elites Used World War I to Suppress Worker Organizing

Most of the film focuses on the enormous setback in US worker organizing that occurred during World War I. In part the filmmakers blame the massive pro-war propaganda and indoctrination apparatus Woodrow Wilson created and in part the repressive measures he enacted to suppress popular opposition to the compulsory draft he introduced.

These included the 1917 Espionage Act (which was never repealed – both Julian Assange and Edward Snowden were charged under this law), the 1916 Selective Service Act (never repealed), the 1918 Sedition Act (repealed in 1920) and the 1917 Immigration Act (allowing for arrest and deportation of dissidents without due process).

In 1919, Wilson created the General Intelligence Division (GID), headed by J Edgar Hoover, who created 200,000 crossed indexed cards on 60,000 so-called “dissidents,” including NAACP and Negro Improvement Association members, pacifists, suffragettes, union leaders and progressive politicians like Robert LaFollette. Hoover took his index cards with him when the GID shut down and Roosevelt appointed him to head the Bureau of Investigation, renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935.

Links to Plutocracy II Solidarity Forever and Plutocracy I A history of Political Repression in the US

 

The US Taboo Against Socialism

America’s Unofficial Religion: the War on an Idea

Abby Martin (Empire Files) 2015

Film Review

America’s Unofficial Religion is a documentary about the origin of the American taboo against socialism.

At present, the US is the only western democracy without a prominent socialist party. This hasn’t always been the case. A powerful socialist movement arose alongside the progressive, populist and union movements of the late 19th century. All were a reaction to the brutal industrial oppression that characterized this period.

In 1912, the US had 13 socialist newspapers, 12 socialist monthlies and 57 socialist mayors 23 cities. Socialist Eugene Debs campaigned for president that year and won 6% of the popular vote (at a time when women and blacks were barred from voting).

Concerned about the detrimental effect of strong mass organizing on profits, the corporate elite leaned on president Woodrow Wilson to pass two laws – the Espionage Act, which criminalized dissent, and the Sedition Act, which made it a crime to oppose US involvement in World War I. Following passage of the Sedition Act, Eugene Debs was arrested for making an anti-war speech and sentenced to ten years in prison. The Wilson administration also imprisoned more than 90 International Workers of the World (IWW)* leaders, in addition to sanctioning the murder of IWW members by Pinkerton’s guards and organized lynch mobs.

US Organizing and Strikes in Response to Bolshevik Revolution

The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution would inspire a wave of organizing and strike activity in the US, leading one in five American workers to go out on strike in 1919.

Wilson responded by authorizing Attorney General Mitchell Palmer and his assistant J Edgar Hoover to launch the Palmer Raids, arresting more than 10,000 suspected socialist and communists and deporting thousands more.

In the 1930s, the cruel economic conditions of the Great Depression led to an enormous upsurge in mass organizing. Many historians argue that Roosevelt had no choice but to bring in sweeping New Deal legislation to prevent a socialist revolution.

Taft Hartley, HUAC and Cointelpro

Following World War II, during which US unions won major concessions, a Republican Congress passed the Taft Hartley Act, which made it illegal for union members to be socialists or communists (in 1945, roughly half the union leadership was socialist) and the Smith Act, which made Communist Party membership Illegal.

The enactment of these laws was accompanied by aggressive activity in the House on UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC). During the fifties many HUAC subpoenaed Hollywood actors, directors and producers – as well as teachers and college professors. Many were permanently blacklisted from working on the mere suspicion of socialist/communist sympathies.

In 1956 Hoover, a rabid anti-communist, would launch Cointelpro, a program conducting massive illegal surveillance, infiltration and sabotage of civil rights groups and other social change organization. Cointelpro also carried out clandestine assassinations and false imprisonment of numerous black liberation leaders, many of whom are still in prison.


*The International Workers of the World (IWW) is international labor union started in 1905 that has strong ties both to socialism and to anarchism.