Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
Ice cream on the floor
The ABC series Blood On The Floor last week told of the struggle by two ex-hippies in the US to establish their ice cream company, Ben & Jerry's Homemade, in the face of monopoly competition and pressure. It was a tale of the success of the "little guy" against big business. Ben & Jerry's has supported many progressive causes, notably the demand for a new trial for condemned Black Panther and radio journalist Mumia Abu Jamal, sentenced to death on flimsy evidence for killing a cop. But Ben and Jerry are no longer hippies, they are capitalists, and their left credentials have taken a bit of a knock just lately. It seems that some of their maintenance employees did not find Ben & Jerry's industrial relations quite as progressive as it could have been and had the temerity to try to unionise their section of the plant. Ben & Jerry's is resisting this attempt by even a section of its employees to exercise their rights as workers, proving once again that even "left" or progressive capitalists are still bosses. When the barricades go up, the workers are on one side, and the bosses on the other.
* * *Tales of a Hiss and a HUAC
Last month the US Government released the six volumes of testimony before the Grand Jury in 1948 regarding allegations that the respected State Department officer Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy. The Grand Jury indicted Hiss, not for treason but for perjury — for denying he was a spy! After two trials (the jury couldn't agree in the first) Hiss was convicted and went to jail for five years. Grand Jury testimony in the US is normally sealed permanently, but the smell of frame-up surrounding the Hiss case has been so persistent that last year Public Citizen, a US consumer advocacy group that seeks to penetrate the secrecy that guards US government activity, petitioned the court for the release of the six volumes of grand jury testimony on the grounds that the material's historical value overrode other considerations. To the government's annoyance, the judge agreed. Now historians are poring over 4,200 pages of grand jury documents released by the National Archives. Alger Hiss had been Secretary-General of the conference that organised the United Nations in 1945. He was a strong supporter of Franklin D Roosevelt and his New Deal policies. But in the post-war years, under Roosevelt's successor Truman, the "socialist" wing of the Democratic Party was under fierce attack from the right. US policy was predicated on "rolling back" Communism and redrawing the post-war borders of Europe that had been agreed at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences. Hiss had played an influential part on the US side at the Yalta conference in 1943. Discrediting Hiss as a "Soviet spy" would discredit the decisions of the conference, or at least US agreement to them. In March of 1947 Truman launched a witchhunt among all 2.2 million US government employees, to root out and remove all who were "disloyal". One of the agencies given responsibility for this work was the House Un- American Activities Committee (HUAC), an earnest member of which was an ambitious young legislator named Richard Nixon. New Dealers and HUAC did not get along. Roosevelt had referred to its earlier activities as a "sordid procedure". In the early post-war years, although it was nominally chaired by the reactionary J Parnell Thomas, it was really led by its most vocal member, Mississippi Congressman John E Rankin. Some idea of the character of HUAC at this time can be guaged from the following questions and testimony when anti-Soviet diplomat (former US ambassador to Moscow) William C Bullitt appeared before it in March of 1947. Rankin: Is it true that they eat human bodies there in Russia? Bullitt: I did see a picture of a skeleton of a child eaten by its parents. Rankin: Then they're just like human slaves there in Russia? Bullitt: There are more human slaves in Russia today than ever existed anywhere in the world. Rankin: You said before that 60 per cent of the members of the Communist Party here [in the US] are aliens. Now, what percentage of these aliens are Jews? ... Is it true, Mr Bullitt, that the Communists went into the southern states and picked up niggers and sent them to Moscow to study revolution? Are you aware they teach niggers to blow up bridges? The following year, Nixon and HUAC ambushed Hiss, the President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace at the time, with a carefully stage-managed accusation by a one-time Communist Party member (and former editor of Time!) Whittaker Chambers that Hiss was part of a Soviet spy-ring. For Nixon, it would prove to be his first big step to becoming President. Begin as you intend to continue, you might say. I'll continue this item next week.