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Colleen Doody, Detroit's Cold War: The Origins of Postwar Conservatism.

Colleen Doody, Detroit's Cold War: The Origins of Postwar Conservatism (Urbana, University of Illinois Press 2013)

In her book on anti-Communism and the development of conservative thought and action after World War II, Colleen Doody agrees with those scholars who see a contested New Deal liberalism and a powerful conservatism before the latter's flowering in the 1970s. Her most important contribution is to show how "the ideas that became central to this [conservative] movement developed at a grassroots level much earlier." (4)

Using Detroit as a case study, she shows how conservative anti-communism grew out of anti-unionism, white supremacist racism, anti-secular Catholicism, and business hostility to the New Deal. Detroit is a fitting place to study these four. A well-known union city, it was home to the third largest Communist Party organization in the nation. But it was also a city where conservative politicians who linked labour and anticommunism often won elections. As the Black population increased and looked for a place to live, the city erupted in racially charged housing fights. And, as she tells us, Detroit was a Catholic centre with 70 per cent of its million parishioners attending mass once a week.

Anti-communism had been well-established in Detroit in the 1920s and early 1930s by the Ku Klux Klan and its murderous offshoot, the Black Legion. But the crisis of the Depression challenged pro-capitalist views and the successful role played by Communists in organizing the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) weakened the self-confidence of local elites. Doody uses a postwar letter from a Detroit News reader to identify a mix of "fear of big government, antipathy toward organized labor, and hostility toward communism." (19) She traces the role of anti-Communism in the chaotic local and state elections, noting that it worked best when combined with other conservative themes. For instance, she notes a claimed correlation of Communism and high taxes which allowed anti-communists to attack supposedly high-tax liberal New Dealers. But she pays less attention to analyzing the liberal anti-Communism of Walter Reuther, Gus Scholle, and G. Mennen Williams. Liberal anti-Communism in the White House and the union hall preceded the McCarthy onslaught and helped validate anti-Communism.

In her treatment of the intersection of racism and anti-Communism, Doody shows how opposition to integrated housing mixed easily with anti-radicalism. Given the frequent Communist Party presence in open-housing fights and in Black organizations like the National Negro Labor Council, the racists had an easy task of identifying the left with the "threat" of integration. By defining racist exclusion as a defense of hard-won property values, conservatives were able to win away a significant portion of New Deal supporters.

Liberals, who wanted to achieve better race relations using moderate means, limited themselves both by their own anti-Communism and their top down approach. Some more analysis of the Communist Party's attractiveness to Blacks would have been helpful. The Communist strategy of mass protest clashed with the liberal approach of "quashing mass action," in, for example, their responses to the 1948 police murder of Black teenaged car robber, Leon Moseley. (65) In the struggle for fair employment, the liberals' only victory in the early 1950s was to keep a Communist-supported fair employment referendum off the Detroit ballot. Yet the conservatives ultimately gained from the red-baiting of civil rights activists.

What may be the book's most original chapter examines Catholic anti-Communism. For these conservative Catholics, the real enemy was secularism. They were not interested in the businessmen's libertarianism; instead, they defended what they saw as Christian civilization. The Catholic Church had been preaching anti-Communism as well as anti-secularism for a long time and events during the Spanish Civil War only reinforced the Church's hatred of the left. Yet many Eastern European immigrants were attracted by charismatic radical leaders like the often-elected Michigan state Senator Stanley Nowak and supported the radicals who built the CIO. Nevertheless, among Detroit's Catholics there was a deep and developing devotional culture which, Doody notes, "has been largely invisible to historians of American society and politics."(83) At events which drew up to 100,000 participants, these devotees of Mary heard defenses of the family that included protection of patriarchy and questioning of science. As Doody writes, "the Virgin Mary replaced Rosie the Riveter as the model women should emulate." (121) Far from waning, attendance at mass actually increased in the second and third generations, as well as among the new suburbanites. In this postwar combination of anti-secularism and anti-Communism, there was no place for the earlier Catholic critique of industrial capitalism. Conservative Catholics criticized pro-cio priests as being too close to Communism. (92)

In her penultimate chapter, "Business and the Welfare State," Doody leaves behind any discussion of the actual Communist Party and shows how gestating Detroit conservatism became the new model of the Republican Party. In the immediate postwar period, Detroit businessmen promulgated a libertarian philosophy which condemned national economic planning as well as the welfare state. Their propaganda campaign went as far as having a cartoon version of Friedrich Hayek's 1944 The Road to Serfdom printed in Life magazine. They portrayed themselves as acting for the good of the community and the nation in contrast to greedy and self-interested unions. They championed "individual freedom" against government-supported "security." In the postwar years, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) rose from its World War II doldrums and overtook less conservative business organizations, NAM attacked the welfare state which it depicted as the opening wedge in a drive to socialism and Soviet repression. (100)

Walter Reuther was the main target of Detroit's conservatives. Detroit's small businessmen often hated him and resented the peace which prevailed between the United Auto Workers and the Big Three automakers. But in 1958, facing an economic downturn and foreign competition, the automakers joined with small businessmen in denouncing Reuther and the high wages he had helped autoworkers to win. The keynote speaker at the 1958 Wayne County (Detroit) Republican Party convention was Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater who condemned what he called "this socialist-labor thing" (115) As Doody shows, that year's liberal victories marked a turning point for postwar conservatism which shifted from Joe McCarthy's anti-communism to an antistatist, anti-labour attack on unions, the New Deal, and the welfare state.

In her conclusion, Doody takes issue with other scholars of conservatism who ignore the immediate postwar years. She finds the elements of the later powerful conservative ideology already well developed. She identifies these as, "support for free-market capitalism, small domestic government, anti-Communism and traditionalism." (122) She might have added anti-unionism and racism. All these were brought together by anti-Communism upon which many Americans projected their fears.

Seth Wigderson

University of Maine at Augusta
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Author:Wigderson, Seth
Publication:Labour/Le Travail
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2014
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