The Historical Journal

Research Article

THE BATTLE OF DETROIT AND ANTI-COMMUNISM IN THE DEPRESSION ERA*

ALEX GOODALLa1

a1 University of York

ABSTRACT

This article is an exploration of Diego Rivera's visit to Detroit in 1932–3. It seeks to use his experiences, and in particular the spectacular popular reaction to the Detroit Industry murals he painted, as a prism for analysing varieties of anti-communism in Detroit in the depression era. The article argues that close relationships between private capitalists, most notably Henry Ford and a Mexican communist, expose contradictions in big business's use of anti-communism in the interwar period, and suggest that anti-communism was a more complicated phenomenon than simply a tool for the promotion of ‘free enterprise’. Moreover, by comparing the public reaction to the artists' work with their original intent, it is possible to see how members of Detroit's society unconsciously used anti-communism to sublimate broader concerns over race and ethnicity, gender, politics, and religiosity in a region in the throes of profound social change. The article seeks to highlight elements of these latent anxieties and fears in order to show how anti-communism acted as a vessel for social debate.

Correspondence:

c1 Department of History, University of York, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD ag566@york.ac.uk

Footnotes

* I would like to express my thanks to those who have provided advice, comments, criticism, and support during the writing of this article: particularly Tony Badger, Andrew Hemingway, Emily Critchley, Pat Flack, and Robert Tombs and the anonymous reviewers of the Historical Journal.