Jan 23, 2022 – Agnes Smedley – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 409

Rachel and Bill discuss Agnes Smedley, an American journalist and activist who helped the Indian independence movement, Soviet intelligence, and the Chinese Communist forces.

Links and notes for Ep. 409 (PDF): http://arsenalfordemocracy.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/AFD-Ep-409-Links-and-Notes-Agnes-Smedley.pdf

Theme music by Stunt Bird.

[Preview] May 25, 2021 – The Red Ark – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 377

Full episode on Patreon: Bill and Rachel discuss the Red Ark (or Soviet Ark) deportations of Russian-born American anarchists in 1919. (Don’t miss our two part series from 2019 on American anarchist history!)

[Preview] May 4, 2021 – The Smith Act – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 371

Full episode on Patreon: Bill and Rachel take a look at the Alien Registration (Smith) Act of 1940, still on the books today, which prohibits advocating the violent overthrow of the US government.

Lend Lease 14 – The Communists Help Hawaii’s Democrats – Dec 1, 2019

Description: Hawaii Communists, Hawaii Democrats, and how to build a multi-racial workers’ coalition in the 1940s and 1950s. Bill, Rachel, Nate.

Links and notes for episode 14 (PDF): http://arsenalfordemocracy.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Lend-Lease-Episode-14-Notes-and-Links-Hawaii-Communists-and-the-Hawaii-Democratic-Party.pdf

Music by Stunt Bird.

Lend Lease 9 – The Party in the USA – Aug 4, 2019

Description: US-Soviet Relations and Communist Party USA activities under FDR and Henry Wallace. Discussion by Bill, Nate, and Greg.

Links and notes for episode 9 (PDF): http://arsenalfordemocracy.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Lend-Lease-Episode-9-Links-and-Notes-US-Soviet-Relations-Under-FDR.pdf

Music by friend of the show Stunt Bird.

The Russian Revolution & the 1918 Massachusetts Convention

I’ve been reading very heavily from the “Debates in the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention 1917-1918” (particularly Volumes III and IV) — published by Wright and Potter Printing Company (the state printers) in 1920 and freely available today from Google Books — and it’s pretty fascinating for both its detailed discussions of political theory and practice and its time-capsule-like preservation of the tumultuous historical time period in which the convention occurred.

The convention was convened in early 1917, before the U.S. entered World War I and as Russia was beginning to collapse. By the time it ended in mid-1918, the U.S. intervention was in full swing — as was the Bolshevik October Revolution and the Russian Civil War. The delegates in the heat of debates toward the end of the convention could not help but be swept along by the momentous history unfolding around the world.

While there are many historical points I hope to explore more, the convention’s discussions of the Russian Revolution interested me for a first post. Just a few selections are included below.

One important Somerville delegate thought ballot initiatives were as bad as the Russian Revolution:

Mr. Underhill (Somerville): I may be unduly alarmed. The initiative and referendum are not in operation in Massachusetts as yet, and possibly the recent publicity given to the chief backer of the initiative and referendum, Mr. Hearst, and his newspapers may cause the people of Massachusetts to pause and consider whether anything advocated by that gentleman or his newspapers is for the best interest of the community, and it will be defeated. But, sir, if it should be adopted, I should like to remind you that since the Convention passed the initiative and referendum, we have had an illustration of the will and rule of the majority, in Russia. We have had an example of popular government without restraint and without restrictions, which could occur in Massachusetts as well as in Russia. And, sir, it seems to me that if we are going to open the doors wide, we are going to have every demagogue from Cape Cod to the Berkshire Hills telling the people “All you have got to do now is to vote for a homestead and the Government the State or the municipality is going to give it to you.”

 
In reality, contrary to Delegate Underhill’s belief at the time, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia proved to be a coup by a small minority faction, rather than an expression of majority will. He made repeat appearances in the convention debates labeling every left-leaning constitutional proposal a Bolshevik plot, including the idea of having state-subsidized housing as a right for every citizen. Another point of contention in the debates was when Underhill implied that the Russian immigrant population in Brockton at the time was a Bolshevik sleeper cell.

Ironically, a Boston delegate argued that ballot initiatives might actually help conservatively counteract the (what he believed to be) undue militant leftist influence upon state legislators, who he felt would actually be easier to pressure behind closed doors than the whole electorate:

Mr. Herbert A. Kenney (Boston): What do we find in this situation? President Wilson has called the initiative and referendum “a gun behind the door.” My distinguished friend from Brookline (Mr. Walker) spoke very forcibly on those lines. Suppose, for instance, that the House and the Senate say that the minimum wage shall be, – as they do in Russia under the Bolsheviki, – say, $100 a week. Now the Legislature must vote for that; why? Because if one single member of the Legislature votes against that the labor element will center its fire on that man. They might not get him in one year but they can get him in two years or three years or perhaps ten years. He is a marked man. The same way with the Senate.

 
In a discussion of the minimum wage (and whether to guarantee it under the Constitution), one of the more leftist delegates argued that it was a necessity to avoid a revolution or takeover by industrial labor — and described his own evolving viewpoints on the future of labor politics in the U.S. over the momentous course of 1917 and early 1918: Read more

Viet Nam: All that might have been

Idle speculations on lost opportunities in US-Vietnam relations.

Flag_of_Vietnam

I suspect, from all that I’ve read over the years (particularly books like “The Last Valley”), that Vietnam is and likely always was probably the least communist of all the “communist countries,” past and present. (Today it certainly isn’t. Even China doesn’t hold a candle to the mass capitalism of modern Vietnam.)

Communism for Vietnam was, in essence, a successful political and material organizing mechanism for national liberation and an ideology for poverty reduction and social modernization. If you look at the World Bank’s inaugural (1977) report on the unified Vietnam, it’s clear that the Communist Party began dismantling communism — particularly the necessary wartime central planning — and began reorganizing the entire economy of both halves of the country within about a year of the war’s end. There’s also a lot of emphasis in the United States – because of who we backed in the war and our many South Vietnam military and political refugees – about the postwar reprisals, but there’s far less acknowledgment of how fast the postwar Vietnamese government reintegrated and reconstructed southern Vietnam’s economy after the war. And all that transformation was happening in 1975 and 1976, before even the sweeping liberalizations of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Politically and governmentally, communism was a good model for supervising the war effort in Vietnam’s wars of independence and unification from 1945-1975. It proved itself in battle for decades. Once they won, it went away because its utility was past.

For Vietnam, even economically, communism was never an interim state before utopian socialism. It was an interim state before broad-based, social, and artisanal capitalism – a capitalism that cares about the little people and gives them a real shot in life.

It was the dictatorship for the proletariat to get the West out of Vietnam and itself out of extreme poverty. Read more