RAINBOW AT MIDNIGHT

 

I hope the following list of questions will help you in approaching this book, which does contain a good deal of valuable material. These questions, or something like them, will provide the framework for our class discussion.

 

THE BOOK

When he says that labor is ignored or despised in modern American culture, what is he thinking of? Can you think of any particular films, books or other depictions that might illustrate this?

 

Tell me about the title. Meditate on it a little. Why a Rainbow? Why Midnight? (and don't just tell me it's a song title).

 

This book was originally written in 1981, then totally revised for a 1994 edition. What does the chronology tell us about what was going through Lipsitz's mind when he was writing?

 

Lipsitz is obviously left-wing, and pro-labor. Can we find incidents where alternative views or readings might be possible in looking at the events he describes? Apart from being duped or bullied by the ruling class, were there good reasons why people might have reacted badly to the strike wave of the 1940s?

 

How does Marxist thought and terminology color his views? How about concepts like corporate liberalism, hegemony, culture, etc

 

You will see no entry in the index for "Communism" or "Communist Party". Why? Why does he so often put the word "communist" in lower-case, and in quotes?

 

Look carefully at his various accounts of "red-baiting" and witch-hunts, and his underlying assumptions about these. What do you think about these analyses?

 

By common consent, nothing like these strikes could probably happen today. Why? What has changed since the 1940s?

 

What do we learn from his attitudes to religion?

 

He says remarkably little about the union corruption that was quite widely reported in these years. Why?

 

Does the book make us look more at this era as a precursor of the 1940s? Note the evidence of generational conflict, symbolic protest, etc. In how many other ways did these years prefigure the 1960s?

 

Does the book make us doubt conventional 1940s stereotypes? How?

 

Does he lean to conspiratorial interpretations? Where and how? Was there a rational side to anti-communism?

 

What exactly does he mean by "red-baiting"? Is the terminology fair?

 

Is he fair in his account of Truman era policies, especially in relation to the Cold War? If not, why not? Discuss this particularly with relation to chapter eight.

 

Generally - how did you find the book? Personally, I found it preachy from time to time, and itched for an editorial red pencil. How about you?

 

THE WAR

Were you surprised by the volume of home-front conflict and dissidence? What does this tell us about the "good war" idea?

 

What peculiar wartime circumstances tended to generate strikes and social conflicts?

 

Another great year for labor unrest was 1919 - why are post-war eras so contentious in this way?

 

How far are people taking the lessons of anti-fascist and anti-Hitler propaganda and applying them back home?

 

THE STRIKES

 

He sees the labor upsurge of the 1940s as a "might have been", a road not taken. How realistic do you think this is? Given the circumstances of the age, how likely or possible was it that things might have worked out very differently? How? What does HE think would have been a satisfactory outcome? Read the book's blurb by Jon Wiener - WHAT "lost possibilities" are we talking about here?

 

He also talks about these years as potentially revolutionary in many ways, an era of incipient class formation. How is this exemplified? How wold we know it if we saw it?

 

How were the strikes of 1945-46 different from what they might have been ten years or so earlier? How different from say, thirty or forty years earlier? What had changed?

 

Can we generalize about what the strikes were about? What did people want?

 

How far were the strikes political or were they all related to bread and butter?

 

How far did the movement have middle class support?

 

How far were these movements a direct continuation of wartime organizing?

 

What was most interesting or important about these strikes? What surprised you most?

 

Does it matter that many or most of those involved in the strike wave are veterans?

 

American media in this era were notorious for anti-labor views. How far do the media emerge as a united voice?

 

Were the general strikes potentially revolutionary?

 

What do we learn about the geographical development of the strike wave?

 

He quotes many remarks from individual strikes, news-sheets, etc. Which of these particularly struck you, summarized the situation, maybe even stopped you in your tracks?

 

An important question: what does he mean by the concept of carnival?

 

GOVERNMENT

How far were strikers protesting against the union bureaucracies as much as the companies involved? What does this tell us about the shifting nature of social power following the New Deal?

 

How far had the New Deal regime come to terms with being in power, with (in a sense) being the natural party of government?

 

How effectively did the authorities intervene? What if anything had they learned form the 1930s? What was the federal role compared with earlier years? How effectively do the police and National Guard work? Do they make things worse on occasion?

 

In earlier strikes, the courts and the law play a decisive and controversial role: how have things changed by 1945-46, if at all?

 

How far do we see the unions emerging as a syndicalist center of alternative social and political power, almost as American Soviets?

 

Overall, what have people learned from the New Deal and war years, and how successfully do they apply the lesson? Apply this to workers, unions, bosses, government, courts, police, mediaÉ..

 

He sees these events as issues of class and labor. Can we not see them as a crisis of American urbanization, part of a tradition of specifically urban disorder that has its roots back as far as the Jacksonian era?

 

RACE

 

What do we learn from the book about changing concepts of whiteness in the 1940s? Do we see signs that whiteness is taking over from ethnicity as a dominant concern?

 

How does reading this book challenge some other conventional readings of the twentieth century, eg in terms of the civil rights "revolution" post-1954?

 

Discuss his concept of "hate strikes"? Should another terminology be used?

 

CLASS

 

What evidence is there of clas consciousness in these movements? How would we recognize it if we saw it?

 

What does he mean by the term "corporate liberalism"?

 

GENDER

How were women involved in the strikes and conflicts of these years? How different was this from earlier years? Why?

 

What do we learn from the book about changing concepts of maleness in the 1940s?

 

How far do sexual threats, "defending womanhood" etc, form the crucial substructure to labor strikes and social protests? What does this tell us about the era?

 

POLITICS

 

How far do politicians use the strikes?

 

Is there a better case to be made for Taft-Hartley than he suggests?

 

CULTURE

 

What does he mean by "culture"? What is the relationship between class and culture? Why is "low"/ popular culture so important in this era?

 

Some of the most innovative sections of this book concern working class culture of the 1940s, from music and film to stock car racing. What struck you or surprised you here? Is he right or convincing in his analyses of these trends, and how they fit into his wider argument?

 

What does he mean by the "fight for moral authority" in this period?

 

"The class origins of rock and roll" - really? Explain and elucidate. How does his analysis hold for the later history of the genre?