Fist Of History

February, 2015Archive for

Socialism with American Characteristics – World War II and Rationing

Friday, February 13th, 2015

ww2ration

For those unfamiliar the formal position of the Chinese Communist Party is that China is currently under a system of economic and political control formally known as “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” and is the inspiration for today’s historical opinion piece.  This piece was inspired by two recent articles run on Communism versus Capitalism with a focus on its potential impact in the United States (here) and some proposed economic reforms the millennial generation should support, which also smacks of Socialism (here).  Although this is an opinion piece I think I can prove solid ground that during World War II, specifically between 1942 to 1945, the United States undertook a series of economic reforms that can be categorized as how the United States might look under its own form of Communist economic management.

bf_gas_ration_envelope_reverse

My first point of proof was the 1942 creation by executive order of the Office of Price Administration (OPA), an organization of the federal government charged with imposing fixed price ceilings on nearly every good on the consumer market, with the exception of raw agricultural produce.  (So finished food products sold in stores were subject to price control, just not the raw ingredients that flowed into them.)  The OPA also imposed a strict rationing system to ensure that all consumers in a time of scarcity were ensured of a certain minimum standard of food no matter demand and, in turn, limiting consumer choice and the ability to freely exercise their own will in relation to the market.

Now some consumer choice remained, how you spent some classes of ration tickets were up to you, you could buy more lard or less butter with the same coupons, but overall that was picking how you spent a fixed allocation of resources.  What you could not do under this system was decide “this week I want to spend all my money on butter and become the BUTTER LORD!”  No matter how much cash you had in hand, that simply was not an option open to you because of the strict ration limitations.

allison_division_of_general_motors_1945-610x782

The War Production Board (WPB) covered the other end of the economy, taking control of raw materials distribution to United States industry, coordinating raw materials and production capacity, and imposing strict limitations on consumer good production.  The two entities combined forces on some consumer goods, including a system of rationing on items like typewriters that required those who wished to purchase one to file for a special permit to allow its acquisition.  The WPB wielded considerable authority over the United States economy, complete with the ability to grant exceptions to allocation allotments (Hershey’s) and starve other industries considered non-essential to the war.

Combine these two factors with high-employment on federally provided war contracts, a combination of restrictions on labor agitation and alliances with unions to prevent work stoppages, and sharp income taxes that compressed income inequality, and I would argue you have the combination of forces that worked together to create a distinctively North American form of Communism.

It even captured the odd balance in the United States between federal, state, and local authority – rationing limitations were handled by local ration boards – filled with state appointed local leaders who could adjust rations limits within broader guidelines and issue exceptions.  Even excess economic capacity in the form of high wages was slurped up by aggressive patriotic bond drives that pulled spare unused economic buying power out of the economy and into low interest paying federal debt.

pledge

So the question that then comes up is – did this experiment in Socialism with American Characteristics work economically?  Well that really depends on how you define “work” – it did succeed in the overall goal of producing a vast array of military hardware that effectively armed many other nations and allowed the United States to successfully conduct a two front war for three years.  But it was undermined by economic waste, specifically caused by black markets and efforts to duck production limitations, price schedules, and supply restrictions.

black_market_image

Even gas rationing was a general failure in the sense of limiting gas allocation to conserve rubber, history shows people defying gas rations on both a local and regional level throughout the war.  As well enforcement of these restrictions was often quasi-legal, heavy-handed, and handled mainly on a local level, leaving the federal government’s metaphorical hands clean.  It was a voluntary effort, for example, not to drive on the weekend for pleasure – failure to comply would often lead to the driver risking being stopped and harassed or beaten by local police for their lack of patriotic fervor.

I would also argue it failed because, although austerity was something the United States public embraced for the war effort, as quickly as possible post-war this was rejected for a consumer binge that rocketed the United States economy upwards, as well as the demand for raw materials, with the 1950s post-war consumer boom.

Could Socialism with American Characteristics work again, as the two articles at the start of this piece seem to think?  I believe it could, history shows it can, but I would argue not in the long term.  Both systems rely to heavily upon humans putting material demands aside for either nobler purpose or more leisure time, forces that history shows do not hold well over a long enough period of time.

Sources:  Article on Rationing in World War II, Wikipedia entries on the Office of Price Administration and the War Production Board

Reichskolonialbund – Nazi Colonies in Africa

Monday, February 9th, 2015

German_colonial

With the conclusion of World War I in 1919 Germany, upon signing the Versailles Treaty, forfeited all of its overseas colonies in Africa and Asia to the victorious Triple Entente (Allies) powers as spoils of war.  This loss of pride and symbolic power for Germany was one more complaint that the German nationalist right-wing aimed to correct once Germany regained its former position in world affairs.  Overall for Germany it was felt by many on the right that this loss of colonies denied Germany its rightful position in the world as a “Great Power.”   From 1923 onwards militant right-wing groups, nationalist groups, and pro-monarchist groups in Germany all agitated for the re-establishment of a German colonial empire in Africa.  These came together into several pro-German colonial organizations that were smashed together by the Nazi party in 1933 to create a new organization, the Reichskolonialbund, a.k.a. the Reich Colonial League.

Reichskolonialbund.svg

Operating from 1933 through 1943 this organization was aimed primarily at the goal of reforming Germany’s African colonies and was tasked with producing large amounts of propaganda in both the German press, and international medial outlets, about the value of the former German colonial empire, the need for additional living space for Germany, and the unfairness that Germany was contained by hostile powers with no additional room to grow.  That last component was the key reason why the Nazi party supported the Reich Colonial League and used it as a propaganda tool, one of the major foreign policy goals of Hitler during this period was to build up the military strength of Germany for the conquest of additional land to its east, the “living space” Hitler sought to grab from Poland and the Soviet Union through a broad, but ideally swift, series of wars.

Cameroon Chief Wears German Armor

Despite producing images like this and generally pushing for expanded German African colonies, in reality there is no evidence Hitler or the top Nazi leadership had any real designs, or goals, to gain land in Africa for Germany.  Some historians think that Hitler kept this organization afloat to provide a bargaining point with the British, potentially beneficial if Hitler dramatically renounced German colonial ambitions in exchange for British concessions.  Another possibility is this organization existed as a minor appeasement to German industrialists, who had originally looked to Africa in the late 19th century as a source for new markets and cheap raw materials.

DAK.svg

Germany did have one armed conflict in Africa though, North Africa specifically, with the intervention of German troops between 1941 to 1943 to attempt to assist the Italian military in its collapsing anti-British campaigns in Egypt.  One of the core goals of the German intervention in Africa was the conquest of Egypt, closing the Suez Canal to the British, and then had that been successful plans became more open-ended.  Hitler envisioned a grand sweep of the Germany’s African military forces, along with the Italians, potentially sweeping into the Middle East through Palestine, Iraq, and Iran to end up pushing against the southern Soviet Union and linking up with forces in Stalingrad.

However had events played out differently it is possible Germany could have sent its forces southwards from Egypt, deeper into Africa with the propaganda purpose of re-establishing the lost German empire.  The events of 1943 however proved the end of the Reich Colonial League, between the German defeat at Stalingrad and the loss of the German army in Africa such ambitions were seen as frivolous in a time of war emergency.

Source:  Wikipedia entry on the Reichskolonialbund

 

Male Nipple and Bathing Suits

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

1910sbathingsuits-4

So a tidbit that is circulating on the Internet these days holds the following gem:

In the 1930s, men’s nipples were just as provocative, shameful, and taboo as women’s are now, and men were protesting in much the same way. In 1930, four men went topless to Coney Island and were arrested. In 1935, a flash mob of topless men descended upon Atlantic City, 42 of whom were arrested. Men fought and they were heard, changing not only laws but social consciousness. And by 1936, men’s bare chests were accepted as the norm.”  (Sourced from here and reappearing on other stories, such as here.)

Now I have no opposition to the cause as specified but I do have a problem with history being twisted to support any cause, and in doing some solid research with Google Books and online I cannot find one reference to either the “flash mob in 1935” or to the four brave men arrested in 1930 for stomping around Coney Island bare chested.

What I did find though shows that this issue is, like anything, far more complicated than a simple link of “male nipples were bad up to 1930 and then there was mass protest and suddenly male nipples were cool!  Go team woman and freeing nipples!  Our struggle is the same!”

Topless_Male_Bathing

I did find links however to documented sources that indicate males were arrested as early as 1910 for “topless bathing” and that this regulation varied based on municipality and cultural norms of the region.  At least one source commented that in the United States the west coast was very relaxed about men swimming topless on the beach while on the east coast people remained very restrictive on the practice.  Histories of Coney Island show that up through the 1910s and 1920s there was a regular on-going battle between men swimming topless and local authorities arresting and fining them.

The collapse of this prohibition was very gradual, Ocean City, another famous resort, maintained and enforced a law against male topless bathing as late as 1939 and only fully abandoned it officially by 1945.

ItHappenedOneNightSexyGable2

The other argument of the meme, that Clark Gable was the first to appear naked and manly, nipple all ablaze, on screen in 1934’s It Happened One Night is an argument more easily disproved.  Gable, as seen above in all his sexy power, did indeed appear on screen sans a shirt in 1934, his movie was one of the last films released by Hollywood before the enforcement of the Hayes Code, which meant this was one of the last films seen for a while that would comfortably show off male half-nudity on camera.

tarzan

This is an image from the film Tarzan the Ape Man which was released in 1932, a full two years before It Happened One Night and I would note for my readers that the male actor above is wearing no top and his man nipples are in full display for the viewing audiences pleasure.  Yes this was an actual scene from the movie, yes it was distributed in the United States widely, and yes it did do well in theaters so quite a few people went to see it.

tarzan_toes

This image is also from the same 1932 film and that is a bare chested Tarzan counting Jane’s toes so he can learn the basics of counting.  Yes the scene was included deliberately to be sexually provocative and yes, Hollywood fully intended to signal to the audience “His chest is bare, her feet are bare, and she is thinking Naughty Sexual Thoughts About Him.”  At the end of the film Jane chooses to remain with Tarzan and spend time with him in his jungle kingdom and yes, Hollywood wanted you to realize they were totally going to do it together, often.

So please no one arguing that the above bare chested scene “doesn’t count” because it wasn’t displayed in a sexually provocative manner but instead was some sort of “detached wild man” moment.  It wasn’t.

As I said above I don’t have a problem with women being allowed to go bare-chested if they wish, personally I think public decency laws should be written to be gender-neutral.  However the laws in the 1930s (and before) weren’t written to be gender neutral, they were as sexist as modern laws prohibiting women showing off their nipples and allowing men to do so instead.

From what I’ve found the laws prohibiting male topless bathing were written to prohibit it in mixed company, meaning men just hanging out with men could be topless (and in some municipalities even swim naked if precautions were taken.)  Those precautions, and the law in general, were written to prevent women from seeing bare male nipples as it was thought obscene to expose women to bare male chests.  So these decency laws were written from a sexist perspective that women might be shocked or offended seeing bare-chested males, but had no problems with men seeing each other topless.

Which to my eye is even more sexist than the current laws we have, at least in its intention.

Fight the good cause if you wish, and believe me I support you men and women who want gender nipple equality, just please don’t twist history to bolster your argument.

P.S. – If you do find a source showing the famous 1930 four men arrested for nipple exposure in protest, that links to a reputable primary period source or a reputable secondary source citing that primary source, by all means share!

Sources:  Wikipedia on Tarzan the Ape Man and It Happened One Night, entries in Coney Island by John S. Berman, The 1930s by William H. Young & Nancy K. Young, Life Magazine article on the subject in 1938 (which shows it didn’t all end by 1936), Ocean City: America’s Greatest Family Resort by Fud Miller & Fred Miller, Adam’s Naval: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form by Michael Sims, Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man… by John F. Kasson, and Brooklyn Streetcars by the Branford Electric Railway Association

American Bank Note Corporation

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

P-69A, 1944 100 Soles ABNC Trial Proof, GEM(1000)

I love paper currency, it is a personal weakness and any collections of old currency will result in my pausing in whatever I am doing to look at the lovely printed money and reflect on its history.  A recent gift from a family member of some historic paper money was well appreciated and gave me a pause to note a small named stamped at the bottom of each bill, the American Bank Note Company.  Founded in 1795 the American Bank Note Company has been in continuous operation and has printed a wide range of currency products, starting out with producing early American currency and later, once that line of work was absorbed into the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing, into postage stamps for the U.S. market as well as currency for nations abroad.  What stands out in particular about the American Bank Note Company is that, in some ways, it is the company that produced bank notes for dreams of nationhood, along with meeting the demands for various regional banks.

Hait_ABNC

Used by developing world nations throughout the late 19th through the mid-20th century the American Bank Note Company provided paper currency that could quickly spell out a national mythology or mark a new nation states attempt at entrance into the world.  Looking over various different currencies produced by them is a marker into history.

Today the American Bank Note Company, although still a producer of paper currency on demand, has also expanded into work as a solutions management company for nations looking to overhaul their internal revenue operations.

Sources:  Wikipedia on the American Bank Note Company, the ABNote company website