Gerald Horne, Fighting Paradise: Labor Unions, Racism, and Communists in the Making of Modern Hawaii (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press: 2011) 459 pp
First let me apologize to Gerry Horne, since I promised to review this massively researched , absorbing, and important history months ago.
I was unable to get to it because of my own political and trade union battles and my teaching responsibilities. When I did get to read it, I could not put it down, reading it on trains and busses and even sneaking a few pages at the Rutgers graduation when I was sitting win cap and gown.
Horne has written a history of an American state whose own history resembles that of an Afro-Asian colony struggling for liberation in the post WWII era—a sort of parallel universe to the cold war consensus abroad and the permanent consumer capitalist installment plan utopia at home proclaimed by American capitalists and their government on the mainland. As a brief introduction, let me set the stage. American planters, already a dominant force in the Hawaiian economy, launched “a revolution” at the beginning of the 1890s to protect their access to the American market-an access threatened by the McKinley tariff of 1890, with the support of the Republican Harrison administration(their political connections were with the Republican party). When McKinley gained the presidency, he gave Hawaii the territorial status that the Cleveland Democrats, connected to Southern plantation interests had refused, and the planters established complete control of the islands and their diverse population. Given the rise of the Japanese empire(Japanese agricultural laborers were of growing importance in the late Kingdom) the planters began to important Filipino and Puerto Rican laborers from the new colonies the U.S. had established in the aftermath of the Spanish American war.
Chinese and Portuguese laborers were also part of the working class along with indigenous Polynesians and the planters, with the “big five” family based companies at their pinnacle, established what was a textbook example of racism’s relationship to capitalism-large wage differentials between “haole” (white) workers, and the other groups, who were separated by smaller wage differentials among themselves to keep them divided.
In this “paradise” built on the export of Sugar and Pineapples, the high “haole” families lived like feudal lords while the predominantly Asian work force worked and lived in great privation.
AJA (Americans of Japanese Ancestry) workers were among the most militant and class conscious. Although the Japanese empire was pursuing relentless anti-Communist policies in China and Korea and allying itself with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in the 1930s, Japan at the end of the 19th and early 20th century hadhe would be able to play such a positive role in the life of a young man like Obama, from a multi-ethnic background that made him a member of two minorities, “haole” and African, in Hawaii—since Marshall represented much of the best in an African-American tradition that Obama, up to that time, had little connection to, but would subsequently be so important to his development when he came in the 1980s to the Chicago that Marshall left in the 1940s.
Gerry Horne in conclusion has made another important contribution to the history of labor and the left and the tangled history of racism in America in Fighting in Paradise. Those who read it, whatever their background will find it enlightening and fascinating, as they would of his many other fine works, examples of what Charles Beard once called a “usable past” and what I like to call “use value history.”
by: Norman Markowitz Wednesday 16 May 2012 (This article has been published in Political Affairs Click here