Saved from Communism

June 2004


How FDR saved us from communism by giving us limited socialism, and how the current fashion of ultra-conservatism imperils us with the same fate we escaped through FDR's vision.

The early part of the 20th century was a very interesting time to be an American. It was a time of severe labor unrest and political upheaval. Woodrow Wilson buried the Bill of Rights in the first round of the Red Scare roundups. We did very well in World War I, and then all of a sudden one person in four was out of a job. It made people wonder if maybe we had taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Our nation was on a collision course with revolution. Then, Roosevelt stepped in with his brain trust. He sold the nation on another course. He appeased civil restlessness with a form of socialism that provided a minimal safety net and he inspired a generation of Americans to be hopeful for more equitable shares in the country's wealth.

For that, he was vilified by the ruling upper class. He was sincerely hated by the "haves" for pandering to the "have-nots." But his prompt and considered action saved this country from a more violent and destructive revolution that certainly would have come to pass if a man of lesser vision had been president. WHICH WAS WHAT? He gave us Social Security, the 40-hour work week, the NRA (National Recovery Act) -- almost, and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp), which took the most vocal and dissident youths from the streets and gave them work on projects that benefited the community. He also gave us the Labor Relations Act, which guaranteed the rights of working people to organize into protective associations for their own benefit -- a right formerly restricted to the ruling rich.

Instead of a drastic swing to the radical left, Roosevelt enabled the country to negotiate a modest correction; an adjustment that forestalled the necessity for revolution. He saved us from communism by going slightly socialist. That's not the way you hear it in school now. In schools today, Roosevelt is the man who won WWII. He is a controversial figure who started costly experimental programs, which have today been largely discredited. The ruling rich own the companies who print the textbooks and they love President Roosevelt no better today than they did when he was in office.

Since the Reagan administration, our country has shifted to a different course, this time to the militaristic right. We have dismantled and invalidated quite a bit of the social safety net that was put in place by Roosevelt's brain trust. We have no meaningful health care. Higher education is increasingly out of reach for most ordinary people. The promise of a shared prosperity is fading, and people are growing increasingly docile under an increasingly authoritarian, elitist regime that threatens to bring us back to the same place we were in circa 1915.

Far from preventing the evils of communism, the present government of the United States seems bent on making a violent revolution inevitable. Too many people in this country have known better, to settle for worse. Too many people recognize that their lives are less prosperous and secure than their parents' lives -- and their children will be even worse off. We just fought a war to secure the oil rights of another nation, but our gas prices spiral higher and higher. The inflation from that profiteering results in higher interest rates, which hurts everyone except the people lending the money.

We are in desperate need of another correction. We need another Roosevelt who will take charge of a country in crisis, turning us away from the rocks of revolution and sailing us into the calmer waters of compromise. Labor elected Roosevelt by the slimmest margin. Today's labor is far weaker than in years past. If we are going to avert a national catastrophe, we need to increase the strength of labor as a moderating force of reason. The alternative is too awful to contemplate. How many of our children must die to secure a better life for our grandchildren?

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