FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The California Germination of Right Wing Politics

Many Americans think that the reactionary anti-labor and ultimately selfish philosophy guiding most of the US conservative movement today got its start during the years Ronald Reagan was president.  We know the basics of this philosophy: no government aid to working people, even when they are out of work; military and police enforcement of business endeavors, including the breaking up of strikes and other labor actions; claiming to be for free enterprise but demanding government subsidies and other assistance.  Those are but the main elements of this philosophy.  Of course, it is underlined with racism, hatred of the poor, and a Christianity that blames the poor for their own predicament and equates wealth with godliness.

In her new book, Right Out of California: The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism, Kathryn Olmsted destroys the idea that it is this recent history which is the genesis of the current conservative philosophy holding sway over much of the United States.  Instead, she brings her readers back to the 1930s.  A pro-big business Herbert Hoover had been displaced from the presidency and was looking for a way to focus his anger at his electoral loss and the victory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Now, Roosevelt was no socialist, nor even much of a social democrat.  However, he did understand that if Wall Street and US capitalism were to survive, it would have to be more inclusive in its hiring practices and, more importantly, pay people enough so they could buy the goods produced under a revitalized industrial capitalism.  This concept, which seems obvious, is not understood (or accepted anyhow) by today’s conservatives than it was eighty-some years ago.  Tax cuts that primarily benefit the rich and cuts to social services that help the poor remains the template for these champions of social Darwinism.51qL3uyhbYL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

The history Olmsted relates–in a rather stirring narrative–is a story of laborers in the fields of agribusiness organizing for better pay and living conditions.  Led by organizers from the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA), mostly Mexican and Mexican-American farmworkers walked picket lines, faced eviction from already terrible living conditions into even worse ones, saw their numbers jailed, beaten by sheriffs and company goons and even shot and killed.  Olmsted specifically highlights two of the CPUSA organizers–Pat Chambers and Caroline Decker–and the roles they played.  These years of labor turmoil have been covered by others, most notably as fiction by John Steinbeck.  Olmsted acknowledges this  while simultaneously pointing out that his two novels, In Dubious Battle and Grapes of Wrath, that are located in this time and place, are accepted as essentially truthful, despite the almost complete absence of Latinos among the workers in both texts and the portrayal of the Communist organizers as manipulative and not worthy of the workers’ trust.

Not merely a discussion about the men and the money that would reshape the conservative politics of the United States, Olmsted’s text is also an exploration of the growth of the use of advertising and media to convince working people to vote against their own economic interests.  Furthermore, it is a history of not just protests and their repression; it is also a look at the mechanisms put in place by big business to facilitate and maintain that repression. As I was writing this review, a news report began to filter through the internet regarding an intelligence operation set up by the rightwing Koch brothers that spies on and gathers intelligence on its opponents.  This is not the first time such a thing has happened in US history.  In fact, Olmsted spends several pages discussing a similar operation organized by a retired Army General who was politically very right wing.  After his retirement from the military, he began to collect data on liberals, progressives, and leftists.  He then shared this information with police agencies and red squads, anti-labor groups, big business legislators, news agencies and right wing politicians, many of them in the Republican Party.

To his credit, Roosevelt did send members of his administration to California to investigate and take whatever action they could against the big business farmers.  However, since one of the compromises he made with the southern and conservative members of Congress to get the Wagner Act (allowing union organizing in US workplaces) was to exclude farmworkers from the law’s coverage.  The lawyers from Washington did their best to prevent the greatest excesses of the landowners but were also quite anti-communist.  Therefore, their support of the union itself was lukewarm at best.  However, like the right wing of today which considers the most timid of laws curtailing corporate America’s worst actions to be an attack on free enterprise, even the least action in favor of the farmworkers was attacked in the press and by politicians for the same reason.  Of course, as Olmsted points out, these farm owners were not against the government subsidies despite the fact that they were the exact opposite of free enterprise.

As we look around the United States in 2015, the effects of the politics presented in Right Out of California are quite clear. Among those effects one can count the denigration and destruction of labor unions, the cynical acceptance of the manipulation of the popular will via deception, falsehood and advertising, and the ongoing attempts to dismantle those parts of the federal government that rein in big business. Make no mistake, all of this is a result of the big business conspiracy to destroy real democracy Olmsted describes in Right Out of California.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

September 19, 2018
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
Jeff Ballinger
Nike and Colin Kaepernick: Fronting the Bigots’ Team
David Rosen
Why Stop at Roe? How “Settled Law” Can be Overturned
Gary Olson
Pope Francis and the Battle Over Cultural Terrain
Nick Pemberton
Donald The Victim: A Product of Post-9/11 America
Ramzy Baroud
The Veiled Danger of the ‘Dead’ Oslo Accords
Kevin Martin
U.S. Support for the Bombing of Yemen to Continue
Robert Fisk
A Murder in Aleppo
Robert Hunziker
The Elite World Order in Jitters
Ben Dangl
After 9/11: The Staggering Economic and Human Cost of the War on Terror
Charles Pierson
Invade The Hague! Bolton vs. the ICC
Robert Fantina
Trump and Palestine
Daniel Warner
Hubris on and Off the Court
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail