Jewish Champions of First Amendment
isomin at gmu.edu
Mon Sep 11 09:58:33 PDT 2006
There were plenty of other left-wing movements that were available to
join in the 1920s and 30s. The Socialist Party (which was anti-Stalinist
and had far more electoral support than the CPUSA), and the NAACP (for
those interested in African-American rights), to name just two. It is
simply not true that the CPUSA was the only group that seemed to be
doing something about serious problems, even if "doing something" and
"serious problems" are defined from a very left of center point of
view. It is also not true that the CPUSA was the only, or even the most
important group, to advocate for black rights (indeed, the CPUSA's
support for the Soviet Union's harsh treatment of its own ethnic
minorities should have clued people in to the fact that they were not
consistent supporters of racial and ethnic equality).
Moreover, it is a myth that the crimes of the Soviet system were not
known until very late. Many Stalinist crimes were widely covered in the
West during the 20s and 30s. Non-communist trade unions even boycotted
Soviet goods in the late 20s and early 30s to protest the USSR's massive
use of forced labor. The purge trials, etc., were also widely known in
the West, as of course was the USSR's brutal subjugation of Eastern
Europe. The CPUSA was also quite open about supporting the Stalinist
line unwaveringly, as evidenced by its support for the Nazi-Soviet pact.
Unlike the Democrats or the GOP or even the Socialist Party, the CPUSA
was a very narrowly ideological party which demanded strict adherence to
the party line from its members. Richard Wright's essay in The God that
Failed provides a dramatic description of this, for those interested.
Some peripheral people who were only briefly involved with the Party can
perhaps be excused for it and/or not presumed to endorse all the party's
positions. But longterm Party members, such as many of the people
discussed in the previous posts, surely knew what they were a part of.
Cases involving such individuals certainly did advance the cause of free
speech. Bad people often help to make good law. But they are no more
"heroes" of free speech than KKK leader Brandenburg was.
Howard Schweber wrote:
> At 11:08 AM 9/11/2006 -0400, DavidEBernstein at aol.com wrote:
>> Just to be clear, my original post in response to Paul specifically
>> referenced folks who were "members of the Communist Party or were
>> otherwise adherents of totalitarian ideologies." Somehow, this
>> morphed in the post below into an attack on the "entire American Left."
> First reaction: my bad -- I blame the medium.
> Second reaction: "Members of the Communist Party" still seems to me
> to go way too far. Membership in the Party, in America in particular,
> has not meant adherence to all party principles any more than
> membership in the GOP necessarily means that the person agrees with
> every element of the Republican Platform of a given year. In the
> 1920s and 1930s plenty of Americans joined the Communist Party because
> no one else seemed to be doing anything about serious problems or
> paying any attention at all to the African-American community. Before
> WWII, people were drawn to the Party because it seemed as though no
> one else was interested in fighting the Fascists. My all-time
> favorite term from the McCarty era was HUAC's label for people who had
> fought on the side of the communists in Spain; "premature
> anti-fascists." And the European examples I mentioned all involve
> versions of communist parties that were not, in fact, totalitarian
> As time went on, the difficulty of being a liberal and a communist at
> the same time became greater. There was a large exodus from the CPUSA
> after 1956, and others later as the ugliness of the Soviet system
> became increasingly well documented. But if we are talking about the
> Gitlows and Schencks of the world, then I stand by the tenore --
> although not the specifics -- of my previous comments.
> Howard Schweber
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Assistant Professor of Law
George Mason University School of Law
3301 N. Fairfax Dr.
Arlington, VA 22201
e-mail: isomin at gmu.edu
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