In an era of wars and revolutions
American socialist cartoons of the mid-twentieth century
By Carlo and others; edited by Sean Matgamna
HEAVILY MUSCLED, BLACK and white, mostly (although not all) male proletarians confront profit-bloated moneybag (all white male) capitalists, Jim Crow racism, the war industry, and the grim visage of Stalin.
This set of images dominate the collection In an era of wars and revolutions, compiled by Sean Matgamna, a leading member of the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) in Britain.
Entertaining as well as educational, and put together certainly throw some light on changes in radical political culture over the past seven or so decades. Matgamna has compiled an assortment of mostly Trotskyist and Third Camp cartoons from the immediately pre-World War II period through the mid-1950s, with a handful of earlier contributions from the 1920s Communist press.
The artists include Carlo (Jesse Cohen) and Laura Gray (Slobe) and several others. For insight into these artists and their world, you can look up articles by Kent Worcester (http://newpol.org/content/sculptor-painter-and-cartoonist-laura-gray) and “Cannonite Bohemians After World War II” by Alan Wald (http://www.solidarity-us.org/pdfs/ATC%20159-Wald.pdf).
The coloration of these cartoons is generally pretty dark, and much of the imagery is likely to strike today’s readers as rather grim and outdated. It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that these cartoons and the papers where they appeared — The Militant, Daily Worker, Labor Action, Socialist Appeal, etc. — actually addressed a working-class audience engaged in a labor movement that was stronger and substantially more politicized than today’s.
Matgamna acknowledges the masculinist shortcomings of the works: “The socialists who drew these cartoons were, themselves and their organizations, militant for women’s rights, but little of that is in their work…Even so, the old symbols, the fat capitalist and the big powerful worker, are still intelligible. They depict truths of our times as well as of their own.” (1-2)
Originally published by Against the Current (US). Available online here.
You can buy a copy of the book here.