The enemy is at home

Mark Rickling rickling at
Fri Apr 16 14:41:40 PDT 1999

Wojtek Sokolowski wrote:

>War is not necessarily an "un-progressive" thing. It surely demonizes and
>kills the enemy, but it also requires a mass mobilisation at home, and more
>importanly, demands substantial sacrifices from the working classes who do
>the fighting. That, in turn, means that the ruling elites must make some
>social and economic concessions at home to "buy" working class cooperation
>in the war effort.

Undoubtedly elites make concessions to the working classes during wartime to "buy" their cooperation. (They also tend to use force to silence opposition.) For instance, during WWII, labor was given/earned a junior role in the corporatist planning of the wartime economy in state bureaucracies like the War Labor Board. Yet advances such as this often prove to be ephemeral. After the war the desire of progressives like CIO head Philip Murray to enhance labor's role in the tripartite agreement between the state, industry and labor to plan the economy came to naught and management reasserted its control over production. While WWII certainly solidified gains that labor made in the thirties and extended them into the postwar period, it also left in place contradictions that would make sure that these gains were relatively short lived.

>It is not coincidence that the greatest advances of progressive social
>changes in the US took part during the Vietnam War and Cold War in general.
> It is no coincidence that after the end of the Cold War the ruling elites
>feel sufficiently safe to roll back all those previous victories. A
>somewhat similar argument, documented by impressive empirical material, is
>pursued by the historian Theda Skocpol (_Protecting Soldiers and Mothers_)
>who argued that the American welfare system first developed at the end of
>the 19th century, for the most part, as an unintended outcome of the Civil

Your statement that the greatest advances in progressive social change were at least in part a result of the cold war makes me cringe. I question the utility of making such a sweeping statement. In terms of civil rights, one can see how certain elites acquiesced to the demands of the civil rights movement in order to look good in the eyes of an international community and to quell the potential for domestic disorder. Yet one can also see how the facile association of civil rights with the threat of domestic communism hindered the movement. Thus, I don't see how one can make a stronger generalization than the cold war both helped and hindered civil rights.

Regarding Skocpol's Protecting Mothers and Soldiers, her work is indeed full of impressive evidence and a great place to start if you want to learn about social provision in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. But as far as uncovering the roots of social security and welfare during the New Deal era, her strained argument rests upon a very thin evidentiary base. If I can remember correctly, the only direct link Skocpol finds between Civil War military pensions and the debate surrounding passage of the Social Security Act of 1935 boils down to one paragraph in a 500+ report advocating old-age pensions.


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