October 13, 2007
I spent my last two teenage years at the Armand Hammer United World College of the American West, or the UWC for short. This school is one of about a dozen spread across the continents that collect young people from around the world to live, study, and serve the community together. In the American version, my alma mater, there are 200 students from approximately 75 countries all tucked onto a beautiful campus in northeastern New Mexico. In the old days when I went there, the founding gift from our namesake, the complicated capitalist Armand Hammer, loomed large over us. Nowadays, there has been much funding from other sources, and the Armand Hammer name has been sidelined to a large extent in favor of the generic moniker UWC-USA.
At the time of my admission to this school, there was murmuring among my relatives that Armand Hammer was a communist, and that I, by association, would become a communist if I went to this school. While I certainly graduated from the place a lot redder than when I entered, Armand Hammer’s association with the Bolsheviks had nothing to do with this. As far as I can tell, Hammer never let a friendship with a communist get in the way of his immense commitment to capital.
By way of Tinman, I recently came across the following Soviet poster:
I knew Hammer sold pencils to the Soviets, though I did not realize how worthy of propaganda this was. Hammer apparently had fewer scruples about doing business with the Russians than did his less market-driven peers back in the United States; in fact, I think he was roundly criticized for collusion. It has always interested me how our severe American brand of patriotism so often trumps capitalism in this strange country. The mythology, of course, is that all those soldiers fought and died for our freedom to sell pencils to whomever we damn well please, and myths are always more compelling than the facts. Of course, we have never been free “to sell anything to anyone at anytime,” but that doesn’t matter because we believe that we can. I guess I should be grateful for the little things: at least we’re not as capitalist as we profess. At least an idea can get in the way of the capitalist economy, even if it is a jingoistic and oftentimes racist idea. Maybe this means there’s room for a better, truer idea to get in the way of capitalism as well. (I will never be a good Marxist because I have always thought that so-called epiphenomena–like ideas and religion–are on at least an equal footing with the sorry old means-of-production.)
In any case, it makes me feel gleeful to think that pencils sold to Soviets subsidized my formation as a young man. Comrade Hammer, I salute you!