Review of "From Yellow Dog Democrats to Red State Republicans"

David Colburn’s From Yellow Dog Democrats to Red State Republicans: Florida and Its Politics since 1940 narrates the political transition of Florida from party monopoly to a limited competition electoral regime. As Colburn points out on page 13, “From 1900 to 1950, Florida voted for a Republican only once, and that was to support Republican presidential candidate Herbert Hover against Al Smith… (who) represented everything they opposed” (13-14). Prior to this voters consistently, powerfully and successfully resisted the attempts of urban oriented politicians to enact new legislation and thus were oriented to rural, segregationist politics. The increased mobilization of under-represented groups, migration to the state by people living in regions associated with Republican party policies, the limited capacity of the state Democratic party to maintain discipline resulted and growing dissatisfaction with their national party created an atmosphere of increased political polarization and transformation of state voting patterns.

Governor Collins was a prime example of politicians caught within the turbulence of the times. While a gradualist in his approach to dismantling Jim Crow policies, accusations of being a progressive and of kowtowing to federal rather than state influence tempered his elected capacities. The conflict throughout the state found reflection in the blood-letting of the Democratic primaries and shifting of voting patters. The former issue of intra-party polarization caused subsequent gubernatorial candidate Carlton to refrain from getting Collins endorsement until late in the campaign, a mistake repeated later by Al Gore, causing him to lose to Bryant, who represented the parties segregationist wing. As the new governor’s ability to substantively shape racial policies was limited by the Federal government, the vote for Bryan’s segregationist rhetoric was more symbolic than substantive –this didn’t prevent the Republicans from capitalizing upon the division and general discontent.

On issues of policy, the discourse surrounding busing and the legal framework created by the Brown I and II rulings came into effect, how both parties responded lead to shifts in voting patterns. Though the state was now mandated to institutionalize the equality of blacks on a time schedule determined by the external political actors, local resistance to it continued via economic and community-oriented arguments. Whites held that the quality of social investment instilled via the school system would be degraded by the introduction of black students and teachers while blacks held that the community-oriented institutions that they had developed would now be dissolved. State Republicans were able to capture more votes as a result of this issue due to the fact that the party imposing this at the national level was the Democrats and compounded this advantage by advocating for a low property tax. Another nationa-oriented concern being felt at the polls was via the new Cuban vote, who largely rejected the velvet glove approach of Democrats to Castro. As Republicans found competent candidates with name recognition and their power to mobilize the “Cincinnati” electorate increased, the Democrats individualist approach candidate primaries and increasingly right of center policies lead to party flight evidenced by the last three governors.

Review of "Old South, New South, or Down South?: Florida and the Modern Civil Rights Movement"

The essays edited by Irvin D. S. Winsboro and collected in Old South, New South, or Down South?: Florida and the Modern Civil Rights Movement illustrate the trajectories of various civil rights battles held in the streets, schools, stores, public spaces, churches and courtrooms of Florida. In various ways the authors depict a series of status based contestations. Blacks were no longer going to “stay in their place,” as evidence via battles won in several Supreme Court Rulings, nor leave it at a pace dictated by the local whites.

The collection suggestions that the nature of African-American struggle changed as the primary mode of economic reproduction shifted from agricultural to service oriented work. As they transitioned from farming towns with small population density to larger towns and cities, the greater concentration of people with similar experiences or disenfranchisement caused a number of a qualitative shifts. First was the abandonment of the gradualist approach to social uplift exemplified in the yeomanry ethic of Booker T. Washington. As most of those in these regions were no longer agricultural producers but were wage laborers such a ideology was no longer as applicable to their experiences in the cities. Instead a number of ideologies were formed that were the beginnings of various forms of black power. Based upon this increasingly militant class-consciousness, a number of groups formed to place demands upon the state that approximated struggles occurring in other locales. Due to Florida’s heterogeneous composition of industry, previous settlement and migration patterns, the intensity of open political conflict varied from country to county. The response to these contests was, however, largely the same. Institutional violence, token desegregation, electoral dispossession through districting that gave more electoral power to rural, racist bastions over those areas more open to accelerated integration, and the legal tactics of delay that would have likely made the wording in of the Brown ruling “with all deliberate speed” mean never were the responses to these collective contestations.

The articles in Winsboro cite a number of local civil society organizations that worked on their own and in conjunction with national groups and branches of the Federal Government to overturn the laws and help reshape the attitudes that maintained the Jim Crow regime. While there is a dearth of information on the actual composition, charters, membership numbers and structures of the organizations themselves, the story which emerges is that these grass-roots militants connected to activist churches spread across the state were sufficient to remake the laws which had chained them down to an inferior caste. Despite these gains, however, institutional discrimination persisted. Though KKK rallies were no longer considered socially acceptable, group membership persisted and maintained a degree of control via their entry into police forces. Thus while the legal standing of racial status was eventually changed, purposive targeting continued. Additionally, commensurate economic gains were not accomplished due to their being categorized such as communism, which was deemed a crime greater than being born black.

Review of "Coming to Miami"

On page ten of Melanie Shell-Weiss’s Coming to Miami: A Social History, the author state her intent to broaden the regions historical latinization by broadening the epoch to show the tensions which existed prior to their migration, and to develop that history with concern to extra-regional developments (those things impacting Miami but not necessarily originating there) as well as the role of race, labor and sexual relations. The net effect of such a process is the progressive unfolding of how it was that capitalist social relations developed and underdeveloped Miami and how it was that various communities attempted to resist such exploitation.

Shortly prior to Miami’s incorporation, Malthusian pressures encouraged a number of Bahamians to leave the islands and make their way to Miami. Initially the Bahamian population benefitted from their education within the British colonial system, greater capacity to obtain investment capital and familiarity with natural conditions that initially made them invaluable in the assistance of the burgeoning agricultural industry. These boons, which had the effect of making them the small business owners in the non-white neighborhood and a somewhat decreased capacity for Floridian police to used naked force against them put them at odds with the African Americans already living there. Racial alliances were tenuous and at moments when they did exist, as in the UNIA, there were disconnections between leaders and the rank and file which even when attempted to be corrected highlighted the middle class nature of the movement – a position most often held by the Bahamians.

These tensions within the highly qualified “black community” was slight compared to those that existed with between the African Americans and whites of Western European descent. Thought they literally made the structures of Miami and Miami Beach, they were prohibited from owning land these, visiting if not working and were generally placed within a system of etiquette where violations could result in gross bodily harm. Lacking the capacity to earn from land speculation and paid barely above the level of self-reproduction the infrastructure of the areas allotted to them were of much lower quality than those found in the white areas. Beachfront mansions were thus predicated on unpaved streets and shotgun housing with ad-hoc sewage facilities. The poverty that existed in these communities was a rare sight to visitors, who normally stayed in the white-capital created tourist facilities.

Organized attempts at correcting this took the form of civic and church associations rather than through economic groups such as unions as following such attempts accusations of communism could be made with their implicit threat of American Legion, KKK or police violence. With the increase of first Jewish and then Hispanic migration there were additionally considerations that complicated that already highly pressurized communities. While these two groups also faced discrimination, they were to become seen as if not allies than as preferable partners with which to exploit for labor. The transition to civil rights discourse and with its increased solidarity-oriented political consciousness changed this to a degree, but the damage done due to the previous physical isolation of these communities and their political marginalization made the effort a largely uphill battle.

Review of "Venezuela: Revolution as Spectacle"

Venezuela: Revolution as Spectacle presents a highly critical account of the Chavez regime as populist, militarist, and collaborationist with international capitalism. Uzcategui utilizes Guy Debord’s concept of spectacle as a means of explaining how it is that the Venezuelan population and leftists on the international stage buys into the “protagonistic” democracy. The thesis is at time very compelling, though at times not so much. In the latter case, it’s usually not for the information itself but due to the context of Uzcategui’s analysis.

One of the main reasons for Chavez’s categorization as a “spectacular fool” for international capital is his decision to pursue mixed ownership enterprises, as per Article 112 of the Constitution, within the extractive sector rather than outright nationalizing the process. While the, it seems to overlook Chavez’s basic recognition that to outright nationalize the industry would lead to the type of bloating that dragged down the company previously. Allowing market logic, albeit partially controlled by Chavez’s appointment, thus allows for Chavez to have greater amount of profits with which to spend on discretionary projects rather than increasing the membership of “the state within the state”. Chavez does, however, seem foolish in Uzcategui’s accounts of the ridiculous floating-monetary policy with it’s various prices, thus allowing some people with government access to make large amounts of money for doing no real “work”. A relation of this to the need for the government to stem capital flight would have made this section more compelling.

Uzcategui criticisms of the mission is some of the most compelling writing of the book. The missions are not novel but replicate many of the former spending pattern prior to the lost decades of the 80s and 90s, have duplicated processes, obfuscated formerly clear issues and have often not matched up to their aspirations. With regards to the housing problem, simply put not enough has been made. To address this issue, the government has passed out accumulated leaflets on how to “properly” build barrios – a rather poor option considering the potentially non-informal jobs that could give a boost to the economy. As regards Mercal, there have been a number of irregularities found in distribution lines, there’s been shortages of food, the workers there are still without contract and there’s been little investment in the facilities thus leading to spoilage. The Mission Barrio Adentro has not kept up with it’s goals for creating primary health care modules and has often faced shortages of medicines and supplies.

In regards to Chavez’s populist, militarist character Uzcategui lays out the appointment of many members of the armed services within both the PDVSA and various government enterprises. While Richard Gott saw this as a means in which Chavez could maintain a certain level of oversight over potentially opposition-sympathetic political actors, Uzcategui sees this as an atavistic return to the militaristic tradition in Venezuelan culture with its cult of Bolivar. Because of this, the language against perceived enemies is very antagonistic (or in the usage of Chavistas “protagonistic”) and polarizing, has lead to an organization of society along military lines (seen in the various popular militias). These are issues that are important in the assessment of the Chavez regime, however they are then placed along with claims that a brief increase in the armed forces budget signifies that the government prefers military expenditure to social enterprises. This is done so by making comparisons between national defense spending and sports and also not contextualizing the region. As a percentage of expenditure of GDP, Venezuela is behind Peru, Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia. This wrong emphasis should not, however, take away from the Uzcategui’s insight on how it is that Chavez’s strong role in the delegation of duties and delineation of policy had a negative effect on the political culture. By the overwhelming polarization which occurred and his enlargement of political power through quasi-legal means has meant that the PSUV has a certain level of disconnect from it’s base. Steve Ellner’s Rethinking Venezuelan Politics complicates this simplification, but the general co-optation of the social movements by the state and subsequent prioritization of the states needs over previous organizational actions seems valid as other commentators point this out.

The constitutional planks recognizing Venezuela’s indigenous population and their allowance of them to organize politically at a movement was widely seen as being a positive, progressive aspect of the new Bolivarian constitution. Uzcategui, however, shows how it is that these people have at times been forced to face relocation in order to fulfill various extractive or transportation endeavors. While the Wayuu were not forced to move from their homeland, they were offered large buyouts, an allowance not likely to have been given to them under previous regimes, and their

A particularly amusing and insightful section included the author’s recounting of a visit by “parecon” economist Michael Albert. I, like Diogenes Laerties was, am very much interested in the “lives” of modern thinkers and so found Uzcategui’s description of Albert insisting that his brief period with the government gave him more insight into the goings on in the country than the activists he was with and that his book being widely distributed in Venezuela would assist in the revolution. For one, it’s a compelling scene of the manner in which international leftist activists have turned the heart of the matter into a tabula rasa in which to read their own aspirations and as it shows the intellectual febrility of Albert when faced with counterfactuals.

One of the recurring problems of Uzcategui’s analysis is the placement of subjective factors normally attributed as outside the realm of government control as emerging from their authorship. For instance the high number of trade unionists killed in the country for reasons speculated to emerged from workplace issues is seen as he fault of Chavez’s government. He alludes to this but does not specifically say that this is a conspiracy. This is just one of several examples of the contrast between the how objective information to be found in the book about circumstances in Venezuela is often shown through a decontextualized, anti-statist prism that gives too much credit to the government in causing some of the problems that are functionally explained in other ways. Considering the author’s embrace of Bakunin’s theoretically model of the state this isn’t surprising, however one can’t help but wonder what the old plotter and revolutionist would actually say about Chavez.

A final thought, unrelated to Uzcategui’s general take on Venezuela, is the idea that the author seemingly wants to “investigate and punish those materially and intellectually responsible for these crimes” (45). While the point made in the quite relates to workplace crimes, it’s mentioned earlier as it related to the Amparo massacre. In there two places the punishing of those “intellectually responsible” for the crime is a legalistic burden of proof, that for an anarchist, is a rather strange one. The case of the Haymarket martyrs ought to come to mind, being that all those that were placed under indictment and later judged guilty were all known to not be involved in the actual bombing but were the bombers “intellectual inspirers”. While the author likely means that those that are acting against the interests of el pueblo should be held accountable, as a legalistic doctrine it is of course very dangerous and something the other should consider jettisoning given it’s historical misuse.

Review of "Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida"

Gary Morimo’s Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida is concerned primarily with the manner in which Florida transformed from a barely inhabited region in 1900 to the state with the fourth largest population in 2000. Connected with this story of growth is the manner in which Florida formed a distinct identity distinct from its northern, more established neighbors. To accomplish this Morimo shows how it is that since the 1960s “Florida was more climate controlled, technologically inclined, and also older, more ethnic, more religiously and racially diverse, wealthier, whiter and less agrarian than the rest of the south” (7).

Florida’s beaches were early recognized as a place of beauty to be areas of repose and restoration by elites, leading to various real-estate booms and busts in Miami, the lack of transportation infrastructure, the real threat of hurricanes and the fetid and mosquito filled natural environment meant that most of the states economic activity in the beginning of the 20th century was agricultural and located in the interior of the state.

It was not until the onset of World War II that the conditions would be present that would lead to Florida’s rapid coastal development. First was the transition to Fortress Florida. Federal investment into the region for military bases brought with it service sectors, better roads and infrastructure to be used by the counties after they abandoned it. The many barrier islands were ideal for practicing amphibious assaults, such as the ones that would occur in the Japanese peninsula, and it is the state closest to the Caribbean. It thus was ideal as the base for operations to quell communist organizing in places such as the Dominican Republic following the capture of Cuba by Castro.

Morimo additionally illustrates how new technologies shaped the patterns of habitation, economic investment and culture of Florida. The creation of refrigerated rail cars and that capacity to make juice concentrated enabled agricultural barons to expand their market share and their income. Interstate highways led to the decline to smaller tourist attractions and restaurants and the increase of large tourist operations and chains. Air-conditioning made Florida an acceptable place to live year round to more people, while dredging operations made more land available for housing. It was not just technological innovation that helped create the state, but financial innovation as well.
Much of the mid-twentieth settlement of Florida was accomplished via financial instruments that made paradise affordable to northern retirees. Low down payments on homes facilitated a gray invasion of retirees while insurance policies were founded on political rather than economic rationales. Later came the Marielitos and shortly after them narcos, crooked bankers, dictators and their cabals from South and Central America brought with large amounts of money and a distinct culture that helped distinguish South Florida from “the south”. These factors that shaped modern Florida continue to do so and in ways that are not always clear – be they environmentally devastating or otherwise – however the image of Florida as an aspirational place to live continues despite it’s many peculiarities.