Fist Of History

Posts Tagged ‘Communism’

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

Another History Meme to be Punched

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Greece_Anti_Capitalist_Party_Meme

So this is one of those “history setting” memes that actually requires a careful shifty-eyed reading of history.  It is just like the claim that liberal democracies have never started a war of aggression, you move the goal posts on the argument to exclude anything that doesn’t quite fit until you end up with a data set small enough to prove your point.  This above meme fits the same concept.

To begin with, the Coalition of the Radical Left, otherwise known as SYRIZA, did indeed win a majority of seats in the Greek parliament most recently and is a single party.  It originally started as a coalition of leftist parties however it registered formally in 2012 as a single party, why this is important will come into play in a moment.

Josip_Broz_Tito_uniform_portrait

Above is pictured Joseph Tito, leader of the Yugoslavian Communist party, World War II partisan leader, and post-World War II leader of the new Republic of Yugoslavia, shortly after renamed the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia.  (For those playing our home game the “People’s” marker is a solid indicator of its Communist leanings.  The new ruling party of Yugoslavia did win the majority of seats in the election of November 1945 and the Communist party leading Yugoslavia was, both by definition and policy, anti-capitalist.

Shifty Eye Point #1 – “Well this doesn’t count because the elections in Yugoslavia, although secret, were marred by political maneuvering, intimidation, and using the mechanisms of the state to break opposition parties before the election.  Ergo this doesn’t count, just like all the other Eastern European nations that ‘voted’ for Communism post-World War II.”

I’ll grant Team Shifty Eye the solid essence of this point – because the Greek win in 2015 does appear to be as legitimate as any election in a democracy can get.

Léon_Blum_reading

In 1936 both France and Spain elected “Popular Front” governments (the one in France headed by Leon Blum, pictured above), a coalition victory in both countries that gave political dominance to leftist political parties and both of which undertook radical reforms of their respective governments.  In Spain the new party undertook reforms to improve labor’s position in Spain, and although rejecting land nationalization it did embrace state aid to collective economic ventures, protective laws for tenants, and state aid for agriculture in Spain.  France went further with its own 1936 reform government, including such actions as:

  • Creating a price control board to stabilize agricultural prices in France
  • Nationalizing the arms industries
  • State loans to assist small and medium businesses
  • Major public works programs
  • Shifted labor laws to very strongly pro-union labor

Shifty Eye Point #2  – “Those aren’t single parties in European politics, they are coalitions of political parties working together and therefore do not disprove the core truth of the meme, that Greece elected a single anti-capitalist party to power in 2015.”

Some might also add that the above measures are not “anti-capitalist” enough to count but I’d argue that one – anti-capitalist in Greece of 2015 remains to be defined and the above measures are not exactly capitalist favorites.

But the Shifty Point here is correct as well, these were not single parties but coalitions and in 2012 SYRIZA did indeed re-register as a single party, to gain access to a special seat boost in the elections.

Clement_Attlee

Meet Clement Atlee, leader of the Labor Party in 1945 and the surprise winner of the 1945 general elections when Winston Churchill and the Conservative party were kicked to the curb by British voters who supported Labor as the party to rebuild Great Britain after the ravages and expense of World War II.  Some of his administrations anti-capitalist policies included:

  • Nationalizing a good percentage of the economy including coal, railroads, road transport, the Bank of England, civil aviation, cable and wireless services, electricity and gas, and steel
  • Strong pro-union positions
  • Created the National Health Service Act which nationalized all British hospitals and provided universal healthcare
  • Expanded government supported housing
  • Expanded the government safety system

Put all that together and I think I’m on safe ground stating that the Labor government, and party, of 1945 – 1951 was solidly anti-capitalist, making the above meme sweet, but historically wrong.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the Joseph Tito, Popular Front 1936 Spain, the Popular Front 1936 France, the Attlee Ministry, the 1945 United Kingdom election, and the Coalition of the Radical Left