Sunday, May 03, 2020

I Led 3 Lives: Railroad Strike Attempt

One common misconception Millennials have regarding socialism is their belief it will allow them to work whatever way they want, whenever they want to. However, the textbook definition of socialism is state control of the means of production: natural resources, capital, and labor. So, if you consider yourself labor, the state would tell you what to do and when to do it. There is no reason to think this control will necessarily favor the working class. Today’s China is a perfect example. It rigidly controls the labor market to favor Party-connected oligarchs, consigning the lower classes to lives of economic hardship. This isn’t an anomaly. It is the essence of socialism.

Of course, Party propaganda frequently targeted the working class, but during the Soviet era, trade unions that were not puppets of the Party were harshly oppressed. Just ask Lech Walesa and Solidarity about that. Here in America, there was a pitched battle between the Soviet-backed labor faction led by William Z. Foster and the free labor unions represented by former Communist Jay Lovestone. Herbert Philbrick would definitely line-up with Lovestone and so would his dad, as we see in “Railroad Strike Attempt,” the next episode of the I Led 3 Lives binge, which is findable online and on Alpha Video’s non-chronological I Led 3 Lives Volume 3.

Philbrick starts his day with an unexpected visit from his father, a railway man, who is rather baffled by all the strike talk swirling around the station. Philbrick has a suspicion who might be behind it that is quickly confirmed by his Communist Party masters. They are indeed agitating for a railroad strike, to hamstring American industry. The Party has need of Philbrick’s copywriting talents for their pro-strike leaflets, which should not sound like Communist propaganda, but must also clearly threaten violence against “scabs.” Needless to say, these are not mere threats. The Party will dispatch strong-arm thugs to make good on the promise of Philbrick’s flyers.

Railroad Strike Attempt is on of the more realistic examples of Communist sabotage depicted thus far in the series. However, Gene Levitt’s teleplay seems particularly antiquated, since all of the suspense could have been avoided if the FBI had simply had Philbrick wear a wire. This week’s guest stars are not particularly notable, but the father-son dynamic, as played by Richard Carlson and Norman Rainey, adds a refreshing human dimension to the series. Having Philbrick meet his Party handler in the zoo’s bear sanctuary is also rather amusing and it makes for an interesting backdrop.

At one point, a Communist minder tells Philbrick: “We’re not for the men. We’re not for the company. We are for the strike.” That amount sums up the Communists and Socialists historical attitude towards labor. “Railroad Strike Attempt” serves as a timely reminder the labor force is always better served by capitalism than socialism and also as another vintage example of 1950s noir TV. Recommended for fans of the series and the genre, “Railroad Strike Attempt” is available online and on DVD.