Month: May 2017

New issue of Socialist History Journal – British left intellectuals after 1956

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The latest issue of Socialist History Journal is out now, co-edited by myself and Matthew Worley. The issue is dedicated to British left intellectuals after 1956. It is an extension of our forthcoming collection with Manchester University Press, Waiting for the Revolution: The British Far Left from 1956. You can find read our editorial for free here and read Ian Gwinn’s essay of History Workshop for free here.


Archives of political extremism in Australia: A short guide

Recently I was emailed asking about the archives of the political extremes in Australia and what archives had I come across in my research. I sent the following reply, which I think is a concise (but obviously not complete) survey of the various collections around the country. I thought others might be interested, so enjoy!


For my research on Australian political extremism, the predominant archival sources are those of the Communist Party of Australia. The Mitchell Library in Sydney has the largest collection of materials belonging to the CPA and the Aarons brothers, as well as a number of other CPA members. The University of Melbourne also has a substantial archive of CPA material, as well as that of Bernie Taft, Ralph Gibson and George Seelaf. UQ has a smaller collection of CPA material.

The Noel Butlin Archives at ANU has a wider labour movement collection, donated by several academics and labour groups. The National Library of Australia has some records relating to different radicals, such as Guido Baracchi, and Ralph and Dorothy Gibson.

The State Library of Victoria has digitised over 100 CPA pamphlets, which can be viewed via their catalogue and Trove has digitised the newspapers of the CPA until the mid-1950s.

There is a website called Reason in Revolt which has digitised a bunch of Australian radical materials, but it is far from complete and needs updating. But it does have extensive copies of the materials of the various Trotskyist groups in Australia, especially the ISO and the SWP/DSP.

The Encyclopaedia of Anti-Revisionism Online has the best materials relating to Maoism in Australia, sharing some with the Reason in Revolt page. The current CPA has an archive of the Socialist Party of Australia’s Australian Marxist Review journal back to the 1970s.

On the other side of the extremes, there is little on the Australian far right outside of the National Archives of Australia’s security files. There are papers dedicated to the New Guard in the Mitchell Library, as well as at the NAA. Former ALP and anti-communist activist Frederick Riley has two collections – one at the NLA and one at the SLV, but these are quite wide and varied. UQ also has a collection of material relating to the Australian League of Rights, as part of the papers of Jack Harding and Raphael Cilento. At this stage, the Searchlight archive at the University of Northampton (UK) might have the best collection of post-1945 Australian far right material, other than the declassified ASIO files.

Obviously there are other archives and resources that I have missed. If you can suggest any, please comment below!

For the socialization of medicine! The CPUSA and Universal Healthcare in the 1930s

This is the fifth and final post in a series on the American Communist Party’s health journal from the mid-to-late 1930s, Health and Hygiene. This final post looks at the CPUSA’s national health policy and its call for universal healthcare, an issue that still affects Americans today.

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Health insurance and medical co-operatives

One of the underlying problems of health policy in the United States has been health insurance and people’s access to the health system. As part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms in the 1930s, some form of free-to-access government funded healthcare system was proposed, but opposition from the American Medical Association (AMA), the health insurance industry and some politicians prevented this reform from being realised. The Communist Party and the editors of Health and Hygiene supported health insurance is a first step towards the ‘socialization of medicine’, with three physicians writing in June 1935, ‘We contend that genuine socialization can come only through the establishment of a comprehensive system of social insurance.’ Such a programme, according to these physicians, would provide:

  1. Full medical and dental attention to all working people – workers, farmers, and professionals, employed and unemployed, and their families.
  2. Control only by those who are interested in its honest and efficient functioning, those who give the care and those who receive it.
  3. Financing through taxation of those sections of our population which are able to pay, that is, those in the higher-economic brackets.

They highlighted the problems of the current state of healthcare in the United States by stating that in 1929, before the onset of the Great Depression, only 20 per cent of the working class had any form of dental care, and that 50,000 people would die per annum from sickness and ill health, due to the lack of a proper healthcare system. While the AMA opposed this form of healthcare, these three physicians argued that was also in the economic interests of healthcare professionals. Their reasoning was thus:

Just as the people in general seek doctors to treat them, so the practitioners today – more and more of them – seek patients to treat. There is genuine unemployment among the practitioners even as there is among those who would be patients…

What keeps the patient from the doctor? The answer is clear and simple: He cannot pay for medical and dental care.

However in another article in October 1937, Kingsley Roberts, the Medical Director of the Bureau of Cooperative Medicine, claimed that compulsory health insurance was panacea as it still meant that the poorest people only received treatment from the doctors with the lowest levels of competency. The alternative to this that Roberts proposed were medical co-operatives, which distributed costs evenly amongst its members and encouraged ‘group practice’, where ‘[o]rganized groups of physicians representing all branches of medical science’ are available for consultation within one cooperative. For Roberts, cooperative medicine made ‘a direct attack on the economic problems of present-day medicine with a view of making the best in medical science available to the people on the most favourable terms.’ Another article by Roberts from March 1938 succinctly defined the medical cooperative as:

the method by which numbers of lay-men band together and make periodic, fixed, pre-payment for the medical services of a number of physicians employed to keep them well and to give them regular medical attention when they need it.

The journal noted that most local medical societies, as well as the AMA, opposed these cooperatives, but the Medical Society of the County of New York was praised for embracing medical cooperatives, with journal calling this ‘statement given out by a group of 430 progressive physicians… a forward step’. Roberts concluded his article by declaring:

Active cooperation between progressive doctors and lay organizations is essential if consumer of medical service are to take their rightful part in arranging for more adequate distribution of medical care to all the people. The doctors who wish to support cooperative health organizations must struggle against the national medical officialdom which is grossly misrepresenting them. Laymen must fight reactionary propaganda which has confused and misled in the past.

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The national health program of the CPUSA

The call for the creation of medical cooperatives was what Trotskyists would have later described as ‘a transitional demand’, implemented before the socialisation of the health system as part of a workers revolution. Writing in the The Communist, William Z. Foster stated that the ‘preservation of the health of the people as a political question should, therefore, be the concern of the government’, proposing ‘a federal health program to guard the people’s physical welfare’. Foster acknowledged that ‘capitalist exploitation… deteriorates the workers’ health’ and that ‘only under a socialist system [would] the people’s health be fully protected’, it was important to recognise that ‘by insistent and intelligent mass struggle the toilers can accomplish very much even under capitalism in protecting their health.’ Therefore Foster argued:

It is the political task of the Communist Party to give all possible aid in the development of a national health program and in the organization of the struggle in support of it.

As seen throughout the run of Health and Hygiene, Foster emphasised that there were a number of different areas of social policy that needed to be addressed to create a positive effect on the health of the American working class. This included higher wages, strengthened food and drug quality laws, the abolition of slums and unsanitary low-rent housing, strengthened laws relating hazardous workplaces, increased rests and recreation for workers, economic safeguards (such as pensions and unemployment payments), and greater health education. Foster admitted that ‘[t]he labor movemebt has in the past grossly neglected the whole matter of the people’s health’, but claimed that the Communist Party was taking the issue seriously now, ‘giving its support to the progressive body of doctors who constitute the Medical Advisory Board of the Daily Worker.’ Like the physicians who wrote about health insurance and medical cooperatives, Foster encouraged the Communist Party, as part of the broad Popular Front, to campaign for a national health program, predicting that ‘health and social security legislation will be one of the main arenas of political struggle during the next few years.’ At the same time, Foster maintained that the various areas of struggle outlined above were areas where workers could achieve significant victories at the local level, while the larger national health program campaign moved more slowly.

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Conclusion – into the inter-imperialist era

The journal, for reasons unknown, wound up in late 1938, even though further issues were promoted. But this happened to several journals produced by the CPUSA during the Popular Front era as the Party entered the inter-imperialist era when the Soviet Union signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Nazi Germany. Most of those who were on the journal’s editorial board remained in the Communist Party and were involved in other ‘front’ organisations during and after the Second World War.

In his book The Lost World of British Communism, Raphael Samuel suggested that during the Popular Front period, the Communist Party of Great Britain was very concerned with appearances and promoted ‘cleanliness and respectability’ amongst its members. Reading through the pages of Health and Hygiene, this concern can also be detected within the Communist Party of the USA. The journal promoted an outwardly Marxist viewpoint of health and healthcare, but at the same time, relied on the authority of its contributors as respected members of medical community. While praising the healthcare system of the Soviet Union, there was little in the journal that explicitly advocated a socialist revolution and the editors were very much concerned with promoting practical and immediate advice for its readers, as well as short-term and tangible campaign goals for trade unions and other organisations.

This three year print run of Health and Hygiene reveals an insight into how left-leaning progressives viewed medicine, disease and healthcare in the 1930s, at a time when the Federal Government under Franklin D. Roosevelt was moving (somewhat) to the left with his New Deal reforms. Although there was support within the CPUSA (and by the journal) for most of the reforms undertaken by the Democrats, the journal continually campaigned for the working class, in their trade unions and other local organisations, to take control of their own health, especially pushing for greater safety in the workplace, tougher consumer protection laws, and a reform of social housing across the nation.

The CPUSA and public health dangers in the 1930s: Syphilis and TB

This is the fourth blog post (out of now five) on the CPUSA’s health journal from the 1930s. The other posts are available here, here and here.

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Syphilis was seen as one of the primary public health problems in the United States in the 1930s, with a greater number of people with syphilis living in American cities during the inter-war period and thus more likely to be part of the industrialised working class. Officially, there were 700,000 cases undergoing treatment, according to an article in the journal from October 1935, with New York City registering 50,000 new cases each year. But the journal acknowledged, “We know that the exact number of cases is far beyond the number actually reported by the various public health departments’.

The disease was also costly, in terms of both human costs and economically. For the individual, syphilis was ‘an expensive disease’ as the ‘average worker cannot afford a thorough course of treatment’ and ‘must seek the free clinics which are woefully inadequate and which, in some parts of this country, do not even exist’. It was also costly on a broader scale, with the journal highlighting that ‘thousands are incapacitated by the ravages of syphilis’, which impacted negatively upon the American economy.

The journal emphasised knowing the symptoms of syphilis, because in the first two stages the disease was contagious, yet also overlooked due to the symptoms being so mild. It warned:

The microbe hides in people who look healthy – and so makes such people deadly dangerous to others. They don’t, many thousands of them, even suspect that they themselves have got it. Syphilis is the devilish disease it is because it’s like an iceberg. It travels, eight-ninths of it, under the surface…

It was stressed that there was a cure for the disease, ‘but the probability of cure depends on how early in the course of the disease proper treatment is started’. Thus one of the major campaigns of Health and Hygiene journal was to promote widespread blood testing for syphilis amongst urban workers in the United States, citing a campaign being undertaken by the city of Chicago in the late 1930s. The journal’s campaign asked for readers to send in a form requesting a free blood test with a locally organised physician and to encourage others to do the same thing. It also reassured readers that these blood tests were ‘practically painless’ and that ‘[o]nly a small amount of blood is required’, as well as the fact that the ‘results of the tests will be strictly confidential.’ It explicitly stated, ‘The only persons who will know the result of the test will be you and your doctor.’

As part of this campaign, the journal tried to shift the public view of the disease as one of embarrassment and guilt. This can be seen in the announcement of the campaign, with the journal reassuring its readers:

Intelligent people everywhere are rapidly getting rid of the idea that a stigma is attached to the person with syphilis. We know that a large proportion of syphilis is contracted innocently and that the person who contracts it is often not aware of it until it is too late.

 Celebrating this sentiment, famous microbiologist Paul de Kruif wrote a few months after the campaign began:

A year ago, syphilis, for you young folks and for your parents, too, was mysterious, a secret shame. Its name could hardly he whispered among respectable people, though many good citizens are maimed by it, and die.

Today you have dared to march under syphilis-defying banners. You challenge its deadliness in the streets. It is you young fighters – God bless you – who have smoked one of mankind’s most secret enemies out into the open.

After the announcement of the campaign in the journal’s October 1937 issue, the journal noted that by December 18, 1937, 1,476 people had been referred to a local physician and that extra 15,000 ballot forms had been mailed to readers ‘for distribution to their friends’.

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Another major public health problem in inter-war America was the prevalence of tuberculosis (or TB) amongst the lower classes, particularly amongst industrial workers and those living in overcrowded slum housing. In an article titled ‘TB – Workers’ Plague’, the journal made clear the threat that it posed for industrial workers:

Consumption, the ‘White Plague.’ Pulmonary Tuberculosis it is called in more learned circles. But the workers know it as ‘T.B.’ They know what the disease does to them. They know its horrible dread and the toll it takes from their ranks. T.B. is their disease.

Of the approximately 1 million people suffering from TB at the time, the journal claimed that the ‘vast majority of these sufferers are workers’ and that those workers exposed to silica dust, especially ‘hard-coal miners, stone cutters, ore-miners’, were particularly vulnerable to contracting the disease. It was also contracted via sputum mixed in with dust particles that was evident in close living quarters, where those infected lived amongst the healthy.

The journal attempted to educate its readers about the symptoms of TB and advised anyone whose cough lasted for more than four weeks needed to be checked by a doctor for TB. Furthermore it cautioned, ‘[s]pitting of blood, no matter how small the amount, is also strongly suspicious.’ But it maintained that the ‘only certain way of detecting tuberculosis of the lungs is by x-ray of the chest’. Therefore it campaigned for workers to insist on the right to an x-ray by a doctor or at a local TB clinic. Those workers exposed to dust, the journal suggested, ‘should have an x-ray examination of the chest every six months’ or ‘[i]f the exposure has been heavy, an x-ray should be had every three months’.

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As the disease was also contracted in the slum conditions that many of the working class lived in at the time, the journal also called for the authorities to improve public housing. It cited a report from 1934 that stated that in 64 major cities across the United States, 600,000 homes were without a bathtub or shower, and nearly 450,000 homes did not have an indoor toilet.

Alongside these socio-economic factors, the journal also recommended that readers develop habits to ‘prevent contact with the sputum or secretion of others’. These included:

Fingers should be kept out of the mouth, and hands should be washed before each meal. Material soiled by the cough or sputum of a tuberculosis patient should be burned. One need not avoid contact with a tuberculosis patient, if the patient knows how to protect others from his secretions.

As mentioned above, milk was celebrated by the journal as nutritious for most people, but in its articles on TB, it warned that milk was ‘still an important source of infection with tuberculosis germs’. This was because bovine TB could be contracted by humans. To guard against this, it advised:

Mothers should therefore be certain that all milk used for the feeding of infants and children has been certified or pasteurized by reputable milk companies… The safest milk is that which comes from cows that have been carefully examined, tested with tuberculin, and therefore certified to be free from tuberculosis.

But as much as TB was a deadly disease amongst the working class in the 1930s, the journal acknowledged that due to advances in medicine and the treatment of TB patients, the death rate of those infected with TB has dropped dramatically since the late nineteenth century. In an article dedicated to the work of physician Edward Trudeau, who was the first to develop the TB sanatorium, it noted:

the disease that fifty years ago killed, every year, 300 young adults out of every 100,000 of population, now kills only 60.


Drinking, eating and smoking the socialist way: The CPUSA’s advice on diet in the 1930s

This is the third installment in a series of blog posts on the Communist Party of the USA’s inter-war health journal, Health and Hygiene. You can find the other posts here and here.

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Diet and vegetarianism

The journal was also very concerned about the diet of workers, with numerous articles on what was considered healthy eating in the 1930s. Coming out of the Great Depression, there was a major anxiety about working class people being under-nourished and underweight, with the editors of Health and Hygiene rallying against the ‘crushing semi-starvation relief and low-wage diets that have been forced upon the unemployed and a large part of the labouring population’. The focus of many of the articles featured in the journal thus was on how to moderately gain weight through diet, warning against many of the popular remedies offered at the time:

Left to the kind advice of their friends or the direction of their parents, our too-slim friends are told take this tonic or that tonic, a tonic with cod liver oil or another with malt or one with iron, seaweed, iodine or whatnot. Unseen ‘friends’ over the radio bellow yeast, tasty or ironized. Even whiskey before meals is suggested; in fact, many patented tonics are nothing but wine or flavoured alcohol.

Instead the journal recommended a recognisably healthy diet of vegetables, fruits, cereals, dairy products, soups, meat and fish, but also recommended ‘miscellaneous’ foods, such as ‘ice cream, cake, pie, mayonnaise, olive oil, gelatin [sic], custards, puddings, jam, marmalade, nuts, candy in moderation and so forth.’ Alongside these dietary suggestions, the same article recommended ‘a certain amount of exercise’ and a ‘sufficient amount of sleep’.

The journal was primarily concerned with workers and their families (including the large number of unemployed workers) who were under-nourished in the 1930s. It recognised that it was ‘obviously impossible to hope to attain anything resembling a well-balanced diet for people on present relief allowances’, but encouraged its readers to ‘spend as much for milk, cream and cheese as for meats, poultry and fish; and as much for fruits and vegetables as for meats, poultry and fish.’ Unlike contemporary health concerns for the working class, the journal believed there was more of a danger from under-eating than over-eating:

Life insurance statistics indicate that over-weight individuals die younger than those of correct weight. It is felt, however, that this constitutes no great danger to the mass of American workers and farmers.

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The journal focused on certain types of food and drink that they promoted as healthy and helpful in gaining weight for the ‘too-slim’ individual. Milk was endorsed as a ‘near-perfect food’ and was championed for its relative cheapness, its help in building muscles and developing bones and teeth, its importance for babies and children, and its vitamin count, as well as being ‘an excellent source of fat’. Milk was described as ‘the most digestible of all foods’, with the journal suggesting that a pint of milk could ‘make up, to a certain extent, for deficiencies due to lack of fresh meat and vegetables.’ As well as promoting the consumption of milk, the journal also warned against the rumours published in the widely-read magazine Coronet that milk and dairy products increased the risk of cancer. Calling these rumours ‘gibberish, bombast, claptrap, moonshine and self-delusion’, the journal countered by saying that there was ‘no reason why shouldn’t continue to urge those who can enjoy milk to drink it’. ‘Not enough people’, the journal continued, ‘are drinking milk, rather than that too much is being consumed’, and encouraged ‘Negroes and poor whites’ to consume more.

Meat was another food that was highly celebrated by the journal. It was seen as a valuable source of protein that could not be wholly substituted by milk and eggs, and particularly important for workers and the unemployed as they were susceptible to developing pellagra, a disease caused by malnutrition. The journal claimed that it was ‘the absence of meat and liver in the diets of Southern workers that is responsible for an incidence of about 250,000 cases of pellagra.’ The journal warned against a ‘fear of meat’, declaring:

Meat does not cause high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, diseases of the kidneys, or gout. We do not know the cause of these ailments.

It further stated that it was ‘astonishing how the fear of meat affects a considerable number of otherwise intelligent people’ and criticised those vegetarians who practised this particular diet ‘because of certain fears and scruples about meat.’ But it conceded that for the most part, vegetarianism was safe and suitable dietary choice, if it included eggs and dairy:

Such a vegetarian diet… has much to commend it. It will furnish every vitamin, mineral, and food necessary to good health. It will enable one to work and play as efficiently as the person who includes meat in his diet. Anyone who is fond of such a vegetarian diet can continue to enjoy it without fearing loss of efficiency.

Two years earlier, the journal had rallied against vegetarianism as a fad, but its definition of a vegetarian was closer to that of what would be considered nowadays to be a vegan:

The strict vegetarian diet does not eat milk, butter, cheese, eggs and sometimes honey, because these foods are of animal origin.

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The journal stated that it would be ‘difficult’ for a person to ‘maintain good health on a strict vegetarian diet’ and warned against it for infants and children. It further claimed, ‘Some healthy adults can keep healthy on a strict vegetarian diet, but they have a hard job before them.’ It suggested that vegetarians have attempted to ‘place a pseudo-scientific mask over their cult’, but ‘for all that masking, vegetarianism remains mystic and ideal in the worst sense.’ Workers, the journal argued, needed strength to overthrow the capitalist system and from this point of view:

Engaging in a cult like vegetarianism does not only rob the bodies of these workers of whatever strength they might get immediately from the healthier foods that they fight for. It also takes their minds off the more important problems of the day.

Addictive substances

While addictive substances, such as alcohol and smoking, are now considered public health issues, the journal dedicated little space to these topics. This is even though the journal’s editors clearly viewed alcohol abuse as a significant problem, with an article from August 1936 declaring:

Morphine, cocaine, marihuana are all gross offenders, but alcohol is probably more destructive, from a medical and social standpoint, than all other drugs together…

Written three years after the end of Prohibition in the United States, the journal acknowledged the ‘universal popularity’ of alcohol, but reminded its readers that drinking beyond moderation, both in the short term and the long term, had a number of detrimental effects upon one’s health. It noted that ‘drinking in moderation will not injure the general health’, but cautioned that there were times when alcohol was to be ‘entirely avoided’, such as when conducting work needing precision or physical efficiency. In the end, the journal advised, ‘A wise rule is never to take a drink during working hours.’

Although it saw alcoholism as a public health problem, the journal warned against returning to Prohibition and state-enforced temperance. In 1932, towards the end of Prohibition, William Z. Foster criticised the illegality of alcohol in a pamphlet Towards Soviet America:

Prohibition, based upon a criminal alliance between capitalists, crooked politicians and gangsters, has bred a growth of criminals such as the world has never seen before. And the “best minds” of the country stand powerless before the problem. The American Soviet government will deal with this question by eliminating prohibition, by establishing government control of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic liquors; these measures to be supported by an energetic campaign among the masses against excessive drinking.

Foster pointed to the anti-alcohol campaigns undertaken in the Soviet Union as evidence that the Stalin regime were winning the war against ‘the evils of alcoholism’ (even though drinking increased under Stalin’s first Five Year Plan).

This attitude towards Prohibition remained in late 1936, declaring it was ‘tried and proved itself a failure’. On the other hand, it stated that temperance campaigns were ‘equally futile’. The journal argued that essentially alcoholism was a psychological issue, often triggered by people’s socio-economic position. The journal concluded:

As the difficulties in the outer world increase, causing greater inner stress, more and more people turn to drink… Any effective attack on alcoholism must have its basis in the creation of a reasonable society, where people can have the opportunity for work and self-expression. In such a society even potentially weak persons would be able to get along without cracking under the strain. More important still, such a society would develop far fewer potentially weak persons.

This reinforced Foster’s argument from 1932, where he claimed that socialism in the USSR was ‘rapidly wiping out alcoholism and the mass of misery and degradation that accompanies it.’

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 On the other hand, the journal, like many other medical practitioners at the time, refused to condemn smoking as harmful to one’s health. Those who warned people with ‘highly colored and lurid versions of the evil effects of smoking in health and in illness’ were, in the eyes of the journal, ‘[p]seudo-scientific writers, physical culture faddists, fake medical advisors and columnists’. The claim that the journal emphasised was that ‘it is not possible to say with scientific accuracy whether or not smoking in moderation is harmful to the healthy individual’. While not giving an exact meaning of what could be considered ‘in moderation’, this was the point that the journal sought to reiterate, stating, Smoking to excess is harmful, of course, just as is over-eating, over-exercising, [or] over-working.’ This point was followed soon after by this claim, ‘So far as we know, also, smoking does not shorten life’, adding that ‘[m]any smokers live to a ripe old age.’

The journal suggested that certain people shouldn’t smoke, such as those with problems with their veins, heart or stomach, and also noted that some individuals could not smoke ‘without developing symptoms of poisoning’. But did not advocate for people to quit smoking. It concluded:

if you wish to smoke, and you have no disease which makes smoking undesirable for you, there is no good reason known at present why you should not go ahead and enjoy the habit, provided you are moderate.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment on syphilis!

A socialist guide to sex: The CPUSA and sex education in ‘Health & Hygiene’

This is the second part of a series of blog posts on the Communist Party of the USA’s health journal from the 1930s, Health and Hygiene. This post is dedicated to the coverage of sex and birth control issues in the journal. The first post can be found here.

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Sex and masturbation

Although sex education, particularly influenced by the purveyors of eugenics and social Darwinist birth control, was widespread in the United States in inter-war period, it wavered between pragmatism and upholding traditional Christian morality, including abstinence before marriage and from masturbation. The journal tried to counter this moral view of sex with a progressive and ‘matter of fact’ attitude towards sex and masturbation. The journal pronounced that many sexual ‘difficulties’ related back to the ‘morality taught to us in childhood’, which was ‘derived from religion’ and thus, ‘Questions about sex are lied about or completely repressed.’ Although many people may have moved away from religion in their adult life, the journal proposed that many were still unconsciously wedded to these beliefs. For example:

We may no longer believe that God will punish us for masturbation but we continue to believe that our masturbation has weakened our body and injured our sex organs.

The purpose of this morality was to make people compliant in the face of capitalism and bourgeois authority. The journal argued that ‘guilt feelings aroused by sex makes people timid before authority and afraid to fight for their rights.’ Therefore the fight against capitalism entailed a fight against conservative attitudes to sex, with the debut issue of the journal stating:

Just as we must fight to overthrow the present vicious economic system so we must fight against the wrong attitudes to sex [that capitalism] has implanted in us.

This Christian morality was blamed for sexual ‘frigidity’ in women and couples not enjoying sex after marriage, but the journal still warned against sex before marriage. When a young woman wrote to the journal in January 1936, saying her fiancé ‘think we should have sex relations before we get married’ and that she often thought ‘he is right and that it is only prejudice that keeps me from it’, the journal’s psychiatrist replied:

it might seem at first that it would be wiser for you to have sexual relations with your friend before you marry. This is not the case. Sexual relations are a part of life and cannot be isolated from it. To be satisfactory they must be part of an acceptable relationship.

The journal suggested that ‘[e]ven when we have consciously emancipated ourselves from [traditional feelings about sex], they continue to linger on, as unconscious feelings of guilt’. This could, the journal warned, bring on sensations of guilt for the young women, especially if found out by family and friends. The journal warned that her fiancé may also change his mind if they had pre-marital sex:

your friend, though he had the best intentions in the world, might easily, as a result of his own unconscious feelings of guilt about sex, feel that you had degraded yourself by having such an affair with him, and this might endanger his love for you.

Despite this warning against sex before marriage, the journal featured several articles discussing ‘frigidity’ in women, which argued that women needed to feel liberated from traditional views about female sexuality and be more willing to enjoy sex for sex’s sake within the realm of a heterosexual and monogamous marriage. According to an article in the journal from March 1936, 1 in 4 married women in America ‘get so little pleasure from sexual relations that they can be called frigid.’ This concept was borne out of the fascination with Freudian psychoanalysis in the United States in the inter-war period and proposed that women had internalised traditional morality that denied that women had ‘sexual curiosity, desire or knowledge’. The journal suggested that to overcome this ‘frigidity’, the woman had ‘to “let go” sufficiently to enjoy sexual relations’, while the role of the man in developing a sexual relationship was downplayed. As the journal stated, ‘[t]he husband’s skill and technique are factors to a certain extent, but their importance has been exaggerated.’

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As well as being taught from an early age that ‘only men and “immoral” women [had]… sex desires’, the journal’s psychiatrist pointed to another range of factors that they claimed caused ‘frigidity’. These included ‘improper methods of birth control’, such as the withdrawal method where ‘[t]he women’s uncertainty that the man will withdraw in time, especially when combined with a fear of pregnancy, may be of decisive importance.’ Another factor was the linkage of sex with large families and poverty, with the journal suggesting that to some young women, ‘Sex becomes synonymous with children one cannot afford to have, and a deep fear of pregnancy may result.’

An article published a few months later concluded that the combination of a husband’s encouragement, along with possible help from a psychiatrist, could help a married woman to overcome her frigidity. It stated:

Such a woman responds to gentleness, kindness, and affection during the daily round of life as well as during sexual relations. Encouraging her to express herself, giving her the feeling that her place in her husband’s affections is secure, encourages her to discard these relics of childhood. Tact and patience on the husband’s part will often result in the gradual development of an adult reaction to sex.

 In an exhibition of the journal’s Communist Party origins, it put forward the Marxist argument that women’s frigidity came from her inferior status within the capitalist system and the ‘solution to this problem… can only be a social one.’ The journal surmised:

Individual women may be cured, but most of them continue suffering and a million new cases crop up for the few that are helped. Just as our society creates frigid women, so a rational society could create normal ones. Women’s inferior position and their sexual exploitation are merely parts of the larger exploitation on which our society is based.

Sexual ‘weakness’ in men and their attitudes to sex were handled differently by the journal, and much less column space was dedicated to this issue. While a female reader was explicitly discouraged from partaking in pre-marital sex, the journal discussed a man’s sexual history without any criticism, writing:

When he was about seventeen or eighteen he had his first sexual experience and at this time ejaculated almost before he began intercourse. However, after a few experiences of this kind his ability improved and he had no further trouble except on rare occasions. He continued more or less regular sexual relations with different girls.

‘Weakness’ in this case was ‘rapid ejaculation’, or is better known today as premature ejaculation. The cause of this, the journal suggested, was that the man was ‘anxious and over-anxious to please [his wife], to be an ideal mate for her.’ The solution to premature ejaculation was, according to the journal, was to stop ‘worrying about not being the ideal’ and to be himself, alongside some possible help from a psychiatrist.

More room was dedicated to the topic of masturbation over the run of the journal. Famous psychiatrist and former member of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, Frankwood E. Williams wrote a substantial article on the subject for the journal in November 1935 (less than a year before he died). Williams stated that there was ‘nothing surprising’ and ‘nothing unhealthy’ about masturbation, especially by adolescents and unmarried people. Psychiatrists were particularly concerned of the supposed mental and physical effects of sexual frustration and the journal advocated masturbation to relieve this tension. Williams wrote that people who engaged in masturbation should not feel guilty for doing so, but at the same time warned about masturbating ‘too frequently’, cautioning that for some ‘masturbation may become a permanent substitute for normal sexual intercourse.’ As humans were seen as social animals, Williams argued in the journal that sexual intercourse was preferable to masturbation and that it should be preferably only undertaken by married people ‘when the wife is absent or ill, or intercourse for any reason is at the time impossible.’ Williams’ main argument that it was anxiety and guilt caused by people worrying about masturbating that did the damage, concluding, ‘it is not the masturbation which is harmful, but the worry it produces.’ Like other discussions of female sexuality in the journal, discussion about female masturbation saw it as ‘more complicated’, but did acknowledge that ‘[m]asturbation interests women as well as men’.

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An illustration of the myths of masturbation

Birth control and abortion

By the 1930s, the concept of birth control had won acceptance amongst a significant number of Americans, although, as today, a vocal moral minority campaigned heavily against the promotion of birth control, especially to adolescents and unmarried people. At the same time, birth control became for many synonymous with eugenics and social Darwinism, which the Communist Party and the journal’s editors strictly condemned. The journal strongly advocated for knowledge of effective birth control methods to be provided to all women and called for the repeal of all anti-birth control laws. This was portrayed as a class issue:

While the wealthy upper classes have been able to obtain the necessary information wherever and whenever they desired it regardless of the laws, those who have the greatest need for birth control information – the low-income classes – have been unable to obtain it.

The journal enthused that a number of birth control centres were being opened by workers’ organisations, but warned against other centres or clinics run by religious organisations or for profit. With regards to the former, the journal criticised the Catholic Church for its promotion of the ‘rhythm method’ as an effective method of birth control. ‘There is not enough scientific evidence’, the journal’s Eric Matsner stated, ‘to prove that the average woman can rely on this method.’ But in a later issue, the journal conceded:

most women will prefer not to rely on the “safe period” as a method of birth control… However, the “safe period” does work in some cases, and for a woman whose religious scruples will not allow her to use other methods, it may be recommended as better than no method at all.

With regards to the latter, the journal warned:

The public should be on guard against a number of so-called “birth-control clinics” which have been opened by commercial firms. The interest of these firms is naturally not in the reliability of the advice given, but in selling their products.

From this, the journal also warned against birth control methods and ‘abortion’ pills being peddled by many, which were ineffective, costly and possibly dangerous. Writing on birth control methods, Matsner that a suitable doctor needed to consulted for the preferred method of birth control to be effective, which was the insertion of a diaphragm (not mentioned by name in the journal). Matsner wrote:

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the woman who buys a contraceptive device at the drug store and attempts to fit herself runs a great risk of becoming pregnant. Only a physician, and a qualified one at that, can prescribe the size and type of contraceptive she needs. Yet a company that is doing a nation-wide business through drug stores sells its contraceptive device with the claim that “one size fits all normal women”.

With regards to abortion, in an article by Vivian Terry written in June 1935, the journal noted that there were ‘many medicines on the market that are supposed to bring on menstruation’, but Terry stressed:

All of these preparations, regardless of the name given to the product or the claims made for it, or the testimonials to substantiate these claims, are worthless. There is no drug, or combination of drugs, which when taken by mouth will with certainty produce abortion.

There were some pills that could cause miscarriages, but these pills only worked by causing ‘generalized poisoning’ of the woman who had taken them.

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An illustration accompanying an article warning about ‘abortion by pill’

The journal also lamented that at this time, there was a difficulty, even with doctors, in determining pregnancy and that many women became needlessly worried if their period was late. Because the ‘optimum time’ for an abortion is ‘between three and four weeks after a missed period’, the journal suggested that many women were avoiding getting an accurate diagnosis from a doctor and thus, ‘if the menstrual period is a week late they rush directly to the abortionists who emphatically assure them that they are pregnant and advise an immediate operation.’ The journal noted that it was estimated that around 150,000 abortions were performed annually in the United States and acknowledged that many women attempted to obtain one for a myriad of reasons, ‘whether it be heart disease, kidney disease, disease of the nervous system and so forth’. But the journal did not advocate making abortion legal so it could be properly regulated, instead proposing:

since abortions in the United States are still illegal and must be performed secretly at terrific expense and danger to the patient, the only solution to the problem is the use of scientific methods of birth control.

Eugenics and sterilisation

While many who advocated for birth control in the United States did so on the basis of eugenics, the journal was steadfast in its criticism of eugenics and the sterilization of ‘undesirable’ sections of the population. The journal argued that eugenics was based on faulty science from its very foundations:

The eugenicist starting from the crude notions that like produces like entertain the fallacy that superior children must come from superior parents. They have the notion that if the people with brains stopped breeding the next generation would all be morons… The eugenicist… is convinced that the genius ought and therefore does come from parents of what they call the better class; that morons come from morons, that good people come from good people, that criminals come from criminals, etc. None of these thins are so.

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Believing that ‘heredity is all important and environment negligible’, the journal called those who advocated eugenics as ‘propagandists for the exploiting class’. The reason that eugenicists called for the eradication of certain races, classes or political groups was, the journal suggested, because these were the groups of people that the ruling class and eugenicists feared. The eugenicists pushed for sterilization of these groups under the vague terms of ‘degenerate, feeble-minded, criminal [or] insane’, but the journal argued that this was ‘fake science’. Arguing that sterilization was ‘a fascist attack on workers’, the journal proclaimed:

Eugenicists are attempting to maintain the domination of a decaying class… Behind the hypocritical moral tone and all the mystical hokum about class and race superiority is a typical fascist attempt to obscure, disrupt and divide.

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The journal highlighted that the Nazi regime had, since January 1934, been using sterilization (as well as castration) against undesirable people and that these methods were being used around the world, partially inspired by the Nazis. The journal emphasised that the United States had been sterilizing ‘the so-called unfit’ since 1907 and that 12,000 people had been sterilized by 1932. It reminded readers that eugenicists were ‘irrational’ and talked ‘nonsense with a purpose’, concluding:

We must fight the attempt of the eugenicists to divide us on the basis of color, class, or race.

Stay tuned for the next section on vegetarianism, smoking and cosmetics tomorrow!

Fighting Disease, Fighting Fascism: The Communist Party of the USA and its health journal, Health and Hygiene (pt. 1)

This is a series of blog posts on the CPUSA’s journal Health and Hygiene that I am looking to turn into an article in the near future. I originally planned to write one blog post on this journal, but there was so much material that there will be four posts over the week or so. These are new areas of research for me, so any feedback is most welcome!

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The first issue of ‘Health and Hygiene’

In 1937, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA), William Z. Foster, wrote in the party’s monthly journal, The Communist about the threat to the health of the American working class in the mid-1930s:

the health of the people is systematically undermined by low wages, slum housing, unsanitary and dangerous working conditions, lack of social security, adulterated food and drugs, inadequate and costly curative treatments, faulty educational systems, etc., all of which are very profitable to various capitalist interests but fatal to the workers. Capitalism not only robs the producing masses of the wealth they create, but destroys their health and very lives in the process.

From this position, in the mid-to-late 1930s, the Daily Worker Medical Advisory Board, a group of medical practitioners associated with the CPUSA, established a journal titled Health and Hygiene. Beginning in April 1935, the journal was to promote ‘good health at home and on the job’ for the American working class, and provide information on a wide variety of health and medical issues. The journal was published monthly until November 1938, essentially covering the initial Popular Front period. According a November 1935 issue, it had 20,000 readers.

Published at a time when there was a particular concern about the health of the working class in the United States and when public health debates were still dominated by ideas of eugenics and social Darwinism, Health and Hygiene sought to counter these ideas and promote greater socialist measures to combat the medical and material problems facing the working class. The journal campaigned strongly for eliminating poverty and poor living conditions for workers and their families, as well as highlighting the health problems in unsafe workplaces.

A breakdown of the topics covered by the journal over its four-year existence shows it dealt with a wide variety of topics. The journal was especially interested with health concerns for industrial workers and the broader working class, such as health problems in the workplace, as well as diseases that afflicted the lower classes in the United States. It also dedicated significant space to running pieces on health and medical education that was absent in other popular press at the time, including sex education and consumer information about fraudulent medicines and health advice.

Top 20 topics covered in Health and Hygiene journal

Category Number of times featured
Fraudulent medicine/health advice 29
Industrial workers health problems 23
Diet/Vegetarianism 23
Babies and child health 19
Sex/Masturbation 18
Beauty/Make Up/Cosmetics 18
Dentistry 13
Syphilis/Venereal Disease 12
Blood/Anaemia 9
Pregnancy/childbirth 9
USSR health 8
TB/Pleurisy 8
Medicine/vaccines 8
Constipation/diarrhoea 7
Scientist profiles 7
Feet 7
War 6
Poverty/Housing 6
Health insurance 5
Cold/Flu 5
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Advertisement warning false medical advertising

Fraudulent medicine and health advice

The most frequent topic of discussion in the journal was related to exposing fraudulent medicines and health advice. The debut editorial stated that the working class was at risk of being defrauded in this way ‘[b]ecause of their limited income and because of the pressing nature of their health problems’. The editorial added that this meant taking advice from advertisements ‘rather than that of a competent physician or dentist’ and thus, ‘workers fall prey to all sorts of medical fads and faddists’. The journal claimed, ‘We will expose such fakes and frauds wherever we find them’.

This certainly seemed to be the case. In one issue from October 1935, chiropractic was a described as ‘a symptom of the economic and social system under which we live’, claiming ‘Found by a mystic and supernaturalist, it was quickly exploited for the profit it would bring’. In an article from the following month, it wrote:

Osteopathy as an explanation or treatment for human ailments is doomed. Future society will regard it as an understandable outcrop from the roots of an economy where profit could inspire a teaching that had no basis in science and reason.

The editors of Health and Hygiene saw this a service that they could provide to build solidarity between health practitioners and the working class against those who profited from the peddling of fraudulent medicines and treatment. They proposed that there was ‘no essential conflict between the true interest of the doctor and the interest of the patient’, who both benefitted from the exposure of false treatments.

Reflecting the politics of the period, the journal claimed that Nazi Germany was one country ‘where anti-scientific cults and all so-called “natural” methods are flourishing’, criticising the ‘naturopathy’ and ‘racial science’ of the Nazi regime. In contrast, the journal claimed that in the Soviet Union – ‘where the profit system has been abolished’ – all fraudulent treatments ‘that prey on people’s health for profit’ had also disappeared. ‘In the Soviet Union’, the editorial asserted, ‘there is no Chiropractic, Osteopathy, Christian Science, or patient medicine industry’.

As well as fraudulent treatments, the journal also warned about the dangers of taking many over-the-counter medicines, which could contribute to a money-making exercise by drug companies and/or lead to harm through self-medication. Arthur Kallet, co-author of the book 100,000,000 Guinea Pigs: Dangers in Everyday Foods, Drugs and Cosmetics, wrote that there were several results from self-medication and relying on over-the-counter medications – that these drugs would not work and were merely placebos, that self-medication could delay diagnoses (and thus proper treatment) of serious illnesses, and that these drugs could lead to injury and death to those who took them, as well as addiction. Kallet warned:

When drugs are taken on the advice of an advertiser, or a neighbour, or simply because they happen to be in the medicine-chest, their usefulness approaches the zero point; and their hazards, present even when drugs are prescribed by physicians, become serious.

Kallet also cautioned readers about the potential addictiveness of certain medications and this was a theme returned to on other occasions by the journal. There were relatively few articles in the journal dedication to the legal addictions of alcohol and smoking, but there was no also little mention of illegal drug consumption, such as heroin or cocaine, or addiction to heavy-duty painkillers, such as morphine, which was commonplace in the inter-war period. One issue in December 1936 raised the issue of addiction to Bromo-Seltzer, a painkiller and tranquiliser that was popularly used for headaches. The journal warned that Bromo-Seltzer was ‘being used as a substitute for morphine, opium, and other drugs by narcotic addicts’ before stating ‘its users become as much a slave to it as narcotic addicts do to cocaine or morphine.’

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From an article in 1937 on industrial poisonings

Health problems in the workplace

One of the primary goals of the journal and of the Daily Worker Medical Advisory Board was to campaign for improvements to workers’ health in the workplace. Despite improvements in the early 1900s, the industrial workplace in the United States was still a very dangerous place. In the debut editorial, the journal announced that it would ‘take the initiative in organizing campaigns for certain public health measures’, including attempting to ‘be a leader in the fight for a change of the conditions which render workers susceptible to illness.’

This was a constant feature throughout the publication run of the journal. The first issue in April 1935 ran a leading article on silicosis and lung disease, campaigning for enforcement of laws pertaining to the removal of silica dust. From there, the journal also highlighted the dangers of benzol poisoning, tuberculosis, lead poisoning in the automobile industry, radium poisoning amongst watchmakers, accidents in the steel industry and poisoning in the rubber mills (amongst others).

The journal put forward two solutions to these problems. Firstly the journal argued for stronger legislation dealing with workplace health and safety, as well as the enforcement of these laws. Capitalists and politicians were seen as a hindrance to this, with the journal stating:

Lobbyists for industrial insurance companies and the employers are paid huge sums to obstruct the introduction of any type of legislation which might save the lives of thousands upon thousands of workers at a small increase in operating expenses.

Even when legislation was in place, it needed to be enforced properly. Discussing safety in the automobile industry, future CPUSA leader Earl Browder (under the pseudonym George Morris) complained that Department of Labor had ‘neither the interest nor the facilities for proper inspection of the plants so as to at least enforce existing inadequate laws.’ In the article on silicosis, the journal demanded:

Only with the enforcement of public health legislation, inspired, administered and controlled by workers, will the disease, silicosis, a pernicious outgrowth of capitalist negligence and exploitation, be liquidated.

Secondly, the journal proposed that stronger unionisation in these workplaces could be used to collectively bargain for better conditions. As a February 1937 issue of the journal declared, ‘It is up to the trade unions and the masses of progressive people to remove this eyesore from the American industrial scene.’

This is the first in a series of posts on this subject. Stay tuned for further blog posts. To keep up to date, press the ‘follow’ button on the sidebar or like the Hatful of History FB page.