Jewish Champions of First Amendment
isomin at gmu.edu
Mon Sep 11 15:46:28 PDT 2006
OK, I think we have narrowed down the question somewhat. But I continue
to think that most longterm members of the CPUSA (as opposed to
peripheral members who were active only briefly) should be considered as
opposed to freedom of speech and in favor of the Soviet Union and its
policies. This form of "guilt by association" does not justify
government punishment or prosecution of such people or censorship of
their speech. But it does justify us in not viewing them as genuine
supporters of free speech. They were no more heroes of free speech than
the Nazis marchers at Skokie.
First, the Party's loyalty to the USSR was not secret, nor were its
demands for members to toe the line (on threat of expulsion) secret.
These things were quite public and open. The USSR's funding of the party
(at least some of it) may have been secret, as were its espionage
activities, but not its general ideological adherence to the Soviet
line. Of course the Party did not have 100% control of all members, but
it could and did expel any members who openly opposed any significant
part of the Soviet agenda (e.g. - those who opposed the Nazi-Soviet
pact, those who supported Trotsky against Stalin, etc.). A person who
stayed in the CPUSA for a long time and did not get expelled can
reasonably be presumed to be a supporter of the Party's official views
and of the USSR as well. If the GOP routinely checked to see whether
each and every member opposes gay marriage and expelled those who don't,
then the GOP would indeed be a relevant analogy here.
Second, many aspects of Soviet tyranny were known from early on. I do
not know about the specific case of Yetta Stromberg and what her
beliefs were.. But she very likely was a strong supporter of the Soviet
Union, as indicated by the fact that she "was a member of the Young
Communist League, an international organization affiliated with the
Communist Party. The charge against her concerned a daily ceremony at
the camp, in which the appellant supervised and directed the children in
raising a red flag, 'a camp-made reproduction of the flag of Soviet
Russia.'" Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359, 361 (1931). By the
time her case came up in 1929, the Soviet Union had already 1) used
forced labor on a massive scale (the Gulag sytem was established in
1918), 2) suppressed all non-communist political organizations in that
country, including socialist ones, and 3) worked to promote the rise of
totalitarian communist dictatorships abroad (indeed one such was briefly
established in Hungary with Soviet support). These things were
well-known to politically active Western leftists at the time because
the Soviets for the most part did not try to hide them. Indeed, as I
noted in my earlier post, many Western trade unions boycotted Soviet
goods in the 20s and 30s in protest of Soviet use of forced labor. Those
leftists who disapproved of Soviet policies joined other left of center
parties and social movements instead of the CPUSA (e.g. - the Socialist
Party in the US). In the US, many such groups enjoyed greater
membership and support than the CPUSA did, and there was little if any
reason to choose the CPUSA over them unless one were a genuine supporter
of its positions and genuinely viewed the USSR as a model for emulation.
Maybe Stromberg's moral guilt is diminished by the fact that she was
only 19. Adult longterm CPUSA members are a different matter.
Howard Schweber wrote:
> Actually, the discussion is becoming salient after all. The issues
> are guilt by association, and the question of whether the views of a
> group are properly imputed to each one of its members -- a classic
> First Amendment problem, I would think.
> At 04:40 PM 9/11/2006 -0400, Ilya Somin wrote:
>> Yes, the digression does indeed threaten to go far afield. I will
>> briefly make only a couple points:
>> 1. The CPUSA was indeed tightly controlled by the USSR throughout its
> Yes, but the members weren't. That, in fact, is one reason the direct
> control of the Party by the USSR was kept secret from the membership.
> For the 100th time (more or less), the issue under discussion is not
> whether the CPUSA was in favor of free speech. The issue under
> discussion is whether membership in the CPUSA automatically
> disqualifies any individual from him or herself being considered a
> "champion" of free speech.
>> 2. While not all Soviet atrocities were well-known at the time, a
>> great many were. I gave several examples in my previous post.
> There are two problematic words here: "Soviet" and "known."
> Membership in the CPUSA did not necessarily indicate unqualified
> approval of the USSR, any more than membership in the GOP necessarily
> implies unqualified approval of a constitutional amendment to ban
> same-sex marriage. (Not a good analogy, but I'm in a hurry.) And I
> have already discussed the enormous historiographic problem of
> projecting knowledge backward in history. Yetta Stromberg was a
> member of the Young Communist League. Her case came to the Supreme
> Court in 1931, based on her arrest in 1929. Do you have evidence that
> demonstrates that Yetta Stromberg a) had heard or read of Soviet
> atrocities occurring prior to 1929, b) believed the accounts she had
> heard or read, c) equated her membership in a communist organization
> with supporting the Soviet Union, and d) joined or remained in the
> organization anyway? If not, on what basis do you disqualify her from
> being a "champion of the First Amendment"?
>> 3. Regarding the particular issue of freedom of speech, the Soviets
>> did not even try to hide the fact that anti-communist speech (even by
>> left-wing socialists) was suppressed in their country, and that the
>> USSR was a one party state.
> What possible relevance does that have to the present discussion? I
> don't get it. I have not said a single word in defense of the Soviet
> Union. Indeed, I would be hardly likely to do so! But "communism,"
> and "the Soviet regime" are simply not coextensional concepts. The
> attempt to constantly shift the focus from one to the other is . . .
> unhelpful. Not remotely unfamiliar, mind you, in this context and
> others, but unhelpful. I will happily sign and display a petition
> declaring that the Soviet Union was a Bad Thing -- except when it was
> fighting something like 4/5ths of the Nazi forces on D-Day, of course
> -- but I don't know how that would do a thing to inform this discussion.
>> 4. Obviously, people who are not true supporters of free speech can
>> still be involved in litigation whose effect is to protect freedom of
>> speech for all. Bad people can help make good law. But there is a
>> crucial distinction between such people and Jehovah's Witnesses,
>> conservative opponents of speech codes, etc.
> I would say there are a ton of such crucial distinctions! But I never
> suggested for an instant that these groups are comparable except in
> one single respect. Others -- not I -- proposed that this single
> respect is salient to the discussion.
> Howard Schweber
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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