Welcome login | signup
Language en es fr
OccupyForum

Forum Post: Gabriel Kolko’s Unfinished Revolution

Posted 3 years ago on Sept. 4, 2014, 3:05 p.m. EST by flip (7101)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

an excerpt from a longer article By Eli Cook

kolko1Gabriel Kolko, historian and socialist, died last month in his home in Amsterdam. He was 81.

When Kolko’s The Triumph of Conservatism appeared on the scene in 1963, it was not only a book of history but heresy. This was the era in which American liberalism reigned supreme, and social commentators such as Daniel Bell confidently assured the public that the formula for sustained economic prosperity and political freedom had been uncovered in the form of a capitalist system kept in check by a powerful and centralized regulatory government.

American liberals of the era rarely challenged the basic assumption on which their worldview hinged: that the purpose of the modern state was to inhibit and constrain—not advance or sustain—corporate interests. As is evident from Bell’s contemporaneous declaration that the balance of powers between private enterprise and public policy signaled nothing short of an “end of ideology,” American liberals in the early 1960s were so utterly convinced of the diverging interests of state and capital that they could not even fathom that this assumption was ideological in itself.

To men such as Arthur Schlesinger, an archliberal in both the White House and his own historical writings, it was sheer common sense to note that “liberalism in America has been ordinarily the movement on the part of other sections to restrain the power of the business community.” In the early 1960s, American historians—led by the likes of Oscar Handlin, Louis Hartz, and Richard Hofstadter—echoed Schlesinger’s sentiment. American historians, that is, save for a young Gabriel Kolko.

Any hegemonic historical narrative worth its salt must have a solid origin story. American liberalism’s lay in its self-proclaimed “Progressive Era.” The labels which have stuck to this distinct periodization of American history insure that this particular story—which still dominates textbook timelines, best-selling biographies, National Public Radio podcasts and most college history departments—practically tells itself. In the beginning, there was the “Gilded Age,” an era of rampant capitalistic greed and excess in which the fortunes of the American people were crushed by “robber barons” and the corrupt politicians these men had in their pocket.

But then, everything changed. With the new century came a dramatic turn of events as a cadre of crusading “middle-class reformers”—led by the “trust-busting” likes of Teddy Roosevelt—took control of the federal government, instituted a number of anti-business “reforms” and not only ushered in the Progressive Era but set the political, economic, and ideological foundation for post-war American affluence.

Be it the government-subsidized consumerism of 1950s suburbia, state- sanctioned anti-communism, or the rise of Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex,” Gabriel Kolko was skeptical of this liberal narrative and set out to undermine it. In his doctoral dissertation on railroad regulation at Harvard, Kolko pulled the rug from under the origin tale of American liberalism by painstakingly uncovering a startling revelation in the archives: the men who had led the push for federal regulation of railroads were not popu list farmers or wage laborers but rather the railroad capitalists themselves.

“The dominant fact of American political life of this century,” Kolko would later summarize, “was that big business led the struggle for federal regulation of the economy.”

In his dissertation, and then more broadly in The Triumph of Conservatism, Kolko presented meticulous research to offer a revisionist version of American history. “I contend that the period from approximately 1900 until the United States’ intervention in the war, labeled the ‘Progressive Era’ by virtually all historians,” he declared, “was really an era of conservatism.” Conservative, Kolko went on to explain, because it was “an effort to preserve the basic social and economic relations essential to a capitalist society.”

Kolko was not one to pull his punches or mince his words. A proud socialist and a man of the New Left, he became a leading voice and pamphleteer within the Student League for Industrial Democracy (SLID), an organization that would later become the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Yet like many socialists of the era, Kolko rejected the determinist positivism of earlier Marxist theory.

The consolidation of the American economy into a few giant monopolistic corporations, Kolko would repeatedly argue throughout his life, was not, as both Max Weber and Karl Marx had suggested, an inevitable event brought on by inexorable economic forces. Rather, it was a contingent and conscious transformation brought on by the very “progressive” policymakers that American liberals had been celebrating for the opposite reasons.

Impersonal laws of diminishing returns didn’t make corporate capitalism, according to Kolko—people in power did. People like Theodore Roosevelt, who legitimized the corporation by dividing them into “good” and “bad” trusts, or Senator Nelson Aldrich, a close ally of JP Morgan and the architect of the Federal Reserve System that publicly ensured the much-needed stability of private finance.

To appreciate the heretical depths of Kolko’s revisionism, we must linger a bit longer on his dissertation and first book. In these works, Kolko turned liberal historiography on its head. He argued that the Gilded Age was not an era of untrammeled monopoly power and corporate dominance but rather one of cutthroat competition, chaotic instability, rising labor power, radically anti-business legislation at the local and state level, and a balkanized political system that did not fit the standardized needs of corporations aspiring to create a centralized national economy.

Corporate-minded businesspeople, Kolko pointed out, desperately tried to deflect these social and economic forces through the construction of private cartels and mergers, but to no avail. By the turn of the 20th century, corporate businesspeople’s profits and social standing were both dropping fast. These failures led leading corporate interests to conclude that only the federal government had the means and power to centralize, rationalize, standardize, stabilize, and regulate the chaos of Gilded Age capitalism into a predictable and consolidated corporate economy.

Only in the era historians have ironically coined “Progressive,” Kolko concluded, did economic elites finally succeed—under the aegis of government “reform”—to institutionalize corporate social relations through such business-led government initiatives as the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve System

53 Comments

53 Comments


Read the Rules
[-] 1 points by MattHolck0 (3867) 3 years ago

the existence of corporations are legitimized by fighting them as corporations

[-] 1 points by MattHolck0 (3867) 3 years ago

the people must have money to give the entrepreneur

one possibility is assigning them a basic living income

those that wan't more will be able to compete for the others money

[-] 1 points by MattHolck0 (3867) 3 years ago

read

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

Sorry - let me try this again in an effort to be more clear.

What are your thoughts on what you have posted by the author - Gabriel Kolko? As in - What are you trying to get across to the readers of this post?

[-] 1 points by MattHolck0 (3867) 3 years ago
[-] -1 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

matt you seem to have lost your way and have now made a comment on an UN-related post. Same Old Same Old Different Day - hey matt?

[-] 0 points by flip (7101) 3 years ago

just exactly what is written. I have no hidden agenda here. I found it interesting and thought others might like to hear from an historian who is under the radar. maybe some will want to get the book - it is an alternative view of history - I assume you agree with that - no?

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

Flipper - stop trying to be opaque.

Your post really says - little - other than to lay blame for the mess this economy is in at the feet of the conservative party for taking actions at the behest of the financial elites.

Is that what you were trying to show?

If so?

Why are you having such a difficult time of just saying so?

[-] 1 points by flip (7101) 3 years ago

I hope my next reply was more clear

[-] -1 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

[ edit ] As we ( you and I ) got off to a bad start on this post of yours. Perhaps I could have made a better 1st comment.

Such as.

Are you making this post to show that it was actions through conservative efforts ( victories ) which brought this society to it's knees?

The same actors back then as are now acting in a much more open/noticeable manner.

As - this does seem to be what your author is saying - note at the end of the post -> " historians have ironically coined “Progressive,”

When what he is saying is that the irony IS that it was a conservative effort by the elites.

edit-> Were you going to get around to sharing your thoughts as to why you made this post? What is it "you" are trying to get across.

[-] 2 points by flip (7101) 3 years ago

I am having a hard time figuring out why we are having this discussion. he is presenting a version of history that is at odds with what is taught in high school and colleges. I thought some might be interested

[-] -1 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

I found it ironic too - that the era ( of government takeover by the elites ) was ascribed to progressive victories rather than conservative victories.

But I also find it ironic that these victories are not laid at the feet of the elites who bought them - through the conservatives in office.

Are you trying to show to the general public - how far back in time that the conservatives in office had stopped representing the people? Their conservative people/constituents? That the conservative party has only lied to their constituents for decades upon decades as to their goals?

If so then yeah the post pretty much speaks for itself.

Still don't understand why getting you to say so is so much like trying to extract a sore tooth without the use of anesthetic.

[-] 2 points by flip (7101) 3 years ago

when I was young I was afraid of needles so lots of fillings without novocaine it was horrible. I am sorry to put you through that experience. I was not really saying anything but exposing others to something I found interesting. that is mostly what I do here. I will work harder to cause you less pain in future discussions!

[-] 1 points by MattHolck0 (3867) 3 years ago

I use tree tea oil for tooth infections

[-] -1 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

tea tree oil

And I think you meant to comment to flip rather than to me.

[-] -1 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

Is this to be some sort of - I told Ya So - post?

If so.

What is the I told ya so - conclusion?

As far as I can tell ( not having read the full piece yet ) - is the the ah-ha moment or conclusion - IS. That leaving business UN-restrained - UN-regulated - leads to economic tyranny. ( as well as environmental destruction )

[-] 1 points by flip (7101) 3 years ago

I would say read carefully and think it through. This piece has much to say for understanding where we are and how we got there. Kolko can help us understand our history

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

[ edit ] OK - as this conversation has been so muddied by my exchanges with thrashingmasks. I will come back to this comment of yours. Having read the further excerpt that you provided below - as well as - having read the original material of your post.

I do not see where we ( you and I ) have a fundemental difference as to the downfall of our society ( here in the USA as well as failures of other societies around the world ).

Just exactly how significantly different is it for me to say - lack of proper regulation of business by government and your posting that big business regulates itself through purchasing support in government?

It pretty much comes back to the same thing = government representing Big Business and not representing the people.

edit-> BTW - did you happen to note the author's ( of your post ) attributing this success of business of finally regulating itself through purchase of government to any kind of group other than Big Business/Individuals with vast wealth?

[-] 1 points by flip (7101) 3 years ago

I agree with you. I assume we agree on much of what needs to be done since you are on this site. I am not very much up on the who's who on the site so forgive my ignorance. I hope I have been clear in my last replies to. nothing here that is surprising to those versed in alternative history but not everyone has read zinn and Chomsky etc. anyway I am pretty sure we would agree on how to move forward in the short term if we sat down over a beer - with enough beer maybe we would agree on everything

[-] -1 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

I can see how we got to where we are today = deregulation or failure to regulate as well as failure to enforce regulations and tax reduction upon tax reduction for the wealthy ( individual and business ). And these programs/actions have been championed from where? = those who currently call themselves ( what? ) republican ( that in no way means that they ACTUALLY stnd for republican values - But - there ya go ).

[-] 1 points by flip (7101) 3 years ago

Seems you did not read carefully

[Deleted]

[-] -3 points by justinTime (-6) from New York, NY 3 years ago

Why be cocky like this? Does it help OWS?

[Deleted]

[-] -3 points by justinTime (-6) from New York, NY 3 years ago

No, my comment did not refer to flipper in any way at all.

[Deleted]

[-] -3 points by justinTime (-6) from New York, NY 3 years ago

No, not defending flipper. Defending any user that might be attacked by your vile rhetorical question based cocky attacks. Also defending the forum as a whole by being against such bad behaviour on your part.

I didn't even read what flip said above. I have no idea what he is talking about, what position he has, etc... I was only commenting on your bad response.

Whether he is right or wrong is no excuse for your vile unproductive childish attacks.

[Deleted]

[-] -2 points by justinTime (-6) from New York, NY 3 years ago

Yes, I have been here since July 30 like my profile indicates.

Why would you doubt that? Is that another one of your attacks. To put doubt into the heads of other users so they attack me like you do?

Are you here to attack others, or to forge strong links between the 99%.

Nothing wrong with shooting down fallacies, it's the way you did it. You can simply propose your position without using vile rhetorical questions and attacks like you do.

[Deleted]

[-] -1 points by justinTime (-6) from New York, NY 3 years ago

What gives you the right or place as to call vile attacks?

It's not a right, but a responsibility. We must stand together and help each other out. When a forum user is needlessly attacking others with cockiness and vile rhetorical questioning, we all have the responsibility to point it out. The goal is for proper adult like discourse.

Your behaviour is rude, useless,and childish.

We all hope you can rectify it.

[-] -3 points by justinTime (-6) from New York, NY 3 years ago

Well - HELL - there ya go - Flipper you watching? If so - then - do it to it dude.

Everyone should listen to it.

That's how you do proper discourse.

Not with the wicked vile types of cocky attacks you do.

[-] -3 points by justinTime (-6) from New York, NY 3 years ago

If a person is not willing or able to support his or her position, it is not an excuse to attack the way you do. You could simply state that fact in a mature adult like manner. Something like - "I'm sorry flip, but I don't feel you adequately supported your position using proper arguments and facts. Could you please try to do so in order for us to continue this discussion."

[Deleted]

[-] -3 points by justinTime (-6) from New York, NY 3 years ago

No, I don't think seeing the failure of an opponent's argument is something to be happy about. OWS is not a game of I'm right you're wrong. What makes me happy is discovering truth. If an opponent had a flawed argument, pointing that flaw should not be enough to bring rejoice, what brings real rejoice is the opponent realize the flaw, admitting it, and wanting to partake on the path towards truth. Both people grow together, instead of playing your one vs the other game.

[Deleted]

[-] -2 points by justinTime (-6) from New York, NY 3 years ago

What you believe is of no importance.

Your cocky rhetorical questions are errors. This is not a good way to pose an argument. It shows you only want to attack, not to search for solutions and learn with your adversary by engaging him or her on a path towards truth. Your only interest is vile personal attacks against others here.

[-] 2 points by MattHolck0 (3867) 3 years ago

one can choose not to respond

[Deleted]

[Removed]

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

Family and friends of flipper. Did no-one ever try to teach flipper to have supporting arguments for his positions? Where did he get the idea to present an argument by presenting someone Else's thoughts that he did not fully understand?

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

OK - seems like you have nothing to say or add. Did I steal your thunder by voicing the point of your article prior to reading the whole article that you have posted?

[Deleted]

[-] 0 points by MattHolck0 (3867) 3 years ago

and the sputnik goes beep

[-] -1 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

Well - hey - thanks for chiming in random word generating program Matt.

[Deleted]

[-] -1 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

Flipper? Having a hard time trying to find your ground? It's been like a half of an hour - as to what should have been a ready response as to your position - whatever that position is supposed to be.

[-] -1 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

Just shy of an hour now. You hoping for someone to dive on in and save you with an observation that you have not seen?

[-] -1 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

Over an hour now - and you have nothing to show for where you were going with this post. Were you thinking questions were not going to be asked?

[-] -1 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

Flipper? Having a hard time trying to find your ground? It's been like a half of an hour - as to what should have been a ready response as to your position - whatever that position is supposed to be.

[-] 1 points by flip (7101) 3 years ago

not a hard time just better things to do (watching federer beat monfils in 5!) than to TRY to educate you. seems hopeless but here is my attempt. this all is pretty obvious - maybe not if you are an archliberal. try to understand this small section - "To men such as Arthur Schlesinger, an archliberal in both the White House and his own historical writings, it was sheer common sense to note that “liberalism in America has been ordinarily the movement on the part of other sections to restrain the power of the business community.” In the early 1960s, American historians—led by the likes of Oscar Handlin, Louis Hartz, and Richard Hofstadter—echoed Schlesinger’s sentiment. American historians, that is, save for a young Gabriel Kolko.

Any hegemonic historical narrative worth its salt must have a solid origin story. American liberalism’s lay in its self-proclaimed “Progressive Era.” The labels which have stuck to this distinct periodization of American history insure that this particular story—which still dominates textbook timelines, best-selling biographies, National Public Radio podcasts and most college history departments—practically tells itself. In the beginning, there was the “Gilded Age,” an era of rampant capitalistic greed and excess in which the fortunes of the American people were crushed by “robber barons” and the corrupt politicians these men had in their pocket. .....................now this is the history i was taught but kolko disagrees and paints a very different picture - a picture that any radical who has read chomsky would know. why does his take on the subject upset you? well to bad here it is -

"Be it the government-subsidized consumerism of 1950s suburbia, state- sanctioned anti-communism, or the rise of Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex,” Gabriel Kolko was skeptical of this liberal narrative and set out to undermine it. In his doctoral dissertation on railroad regulation at Harvard, Kolko pulled the rug from under the origin tale of American liberalism by painstakingly uncovering a startling revelation in the archives: the men who had led the push for federal regulation of railroads were not populist farmers or wage laborers but rather the railroad capitalists themselves.

“The dominant fact of American political life of this century,” Kolko would later summarize, “was that big business led the struggle for federal regulation of the economy.”

In his dissertation, and then more broadly in The Triumph of Conservatism, Kolko presented meticulous research to offer a revisionist version of American history. “I contend that the period from approximately 1900 until the United States’ intervention in the war, labeled the ‘Progressive Era’ by virtually all historians,” he declared, “was really an era of conservatism.” Conservative, Kolko went on to explain, because it was “an effort to preserve the basic social and economic relations essential to a capitalist society.”

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

Well you sure do take the long way round to answer a simple question. And no this take on the subject does not upset me. Actually this additional piece kind of backs up my original comment - and does include an ah-ha moment of clarity.

My original comment https://occupywallst.org/forum/gabriel-kolkos-unfinished-revolution/#comment-1046226 does not disagree with your post of Gabriel Kolko. What I left out of my 1st comment was the players responsible = " that big business led the struggle for federal regulation of the economy.”" - and further - " the men who had led the push for federal regulation of railroads were not populist farmers or wage laborers but rather the railroad capitalists themselves"

The same players today who are continuing in their program of controlling government for their own ends = Big Business.

It really has nothing to do with being conservative or progressive - it has to do with having money - Money Enough To Buy Government Policy and Law Making.

[-] 0 points by flip (7101) 3 years ago

you took 4 hours to respond - not that it matters! so you were not informed by this piece. then why spend so much time on it. maybe some found it interesting and informative. why don't you move on to something else.

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

you took 4 hours to respond

So sorry to have made you wait.

why don't you move on to something else.

Will do. though ->

why spend so much time on it.

I didn't really spend much time on it at all - not really - slapping thrashingmasks around - I - do not count as spending time on any topic of any post - do you?

Glad to see that we have found a moment of consensus = Business - Big Business destroying the USA and the world for decades and decades now.

[-] -3 points by justinTime (-6) from New York, NY 3 years ago

Solidarity flipety flip. I don't share your views, but I do share your annoyance of constantly being attacked by idiotic Twinkle Teamers who don't understand much of anything.

[-] 1 points by flip (7101) 3 years ago

thanks but maybe we agree more than you seem to think - i would hope

[Deleted]

[-] -3 points by justinTime (-6) from New York, NY 3 years ago

Pull your fat naked body out of your therapeutic bed and go for a walk outside. The breeze will sooth your aging face, the exercise will do good for your fibromyalgia.

[Deleted]

[Deleted]

[Removed]

[Deleted]

[-] 2 points by MattHolck0 (3867) 3 years ago

standard 2 week site ban

I can do that standing on my head

IF I don't find something better| I may look in

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

matty - R U claiming 2 B thrashingmasks now? Stick with your random word generator program.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

Now there's the matty I know = making no sense as a follow-up to anyone's inquiry.

[-] 1 points by MattHolck0 (3867) 3 years ago

there there sarky

[-] 1 points by MattHolck0 (3867) 3 years ago

were the republican originally northern industrialist that wanted prevent the south for building their own factories ?

[-] -2 points by DKAtoday (33375) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 years ago

Matt. We are not talking past history - we ARE talking about what is going on today - as in = RIGHT NOW. Go random word generate privately - Hey?