"Communists" Versus "Loyal Members of the Communist Party"

Ilya Somin isomin at gmu.edu
Tue Sep 12 12:53:04 PDT 2006


I have to go back to other work, so this will be my last post on this 
subject, though others are welcome to continue.

The Soviet suppression of free speech in the USSR began very early on 
and they made little attempt to hide it. Not only right of center 
political parties but even non-communist left of center ones were 
brutally suppressed in the 1918-21 period. This was well known to 
Western leftists at the time. Indeed, many of the noncommunist Russian 
leftists who survived the Red Terror fled to the West and had contacts 
with numerous Western left-wing groups. For those who would like to get 
a sense of what was known early on in the era of Soviet rule, check out 
Sergei Melgunov's 1925 book The Red Terror in Russia (published in 
English translation in both the US and Europe). Melgunov was an exiled 
Russian socialist scholar, and his work was widely known at the time by 
Western observers of Russia.

By the 1930s Soviet suppression of free speech was even more widely 
known and the Soviet government and its supporters abroad (including the 
CPUSA) openly defended it as a necessary part of the building of  
socialism. Roger Baldwin (discussed in Eugene's post) was just one of 
many Western communists who openly defended it. The CPUSA also openly 
and consistently defended the Soviet  government position on virtually 
all other issues up through the late 1980s when they criticized 
Gorbachev's reforms for going too far.

 To be sure, as I noted in earlier posts, it may be that some people who 
joined the CPUSA only briefly were unaware of Soviet practice or unaware 
of the official CPUSA line on free speech. Longterm members, however, 
were highly unlikely to be ignorant of these things or to have been 
opponents of Soviet policy. Any such opposition would have gotten them 
expelled from the Party. This differentiates the CPUSA from the 
Democrats and Republicans and other parties that generally do not demand 
down the line ideological conformity from members.



Greg Magarian wrote:

>Does the proposition "No member of the CPUSA can properly be called a
>champion of free speech" depend on an imputation of actual disdain for
>free speech or an inference based on the act of association with the
>CPUSA?  I haven't been able to figure out which of these alternatives
>people here are embracing, and the answer seems important, because the
>two premises generate two very different discussions.
>
>If the argument is that anyone in the CPUSA actually must have believed
>expressive freedom was undesirable, then the right questions are
>empirical, and some have come up in the discussion here.  To add
>another: Does anyone know whether, at any (presumably early) point in
>Soviet Communist history, the Soviet system's smothering of expressive
>freedom was not widely known, or was even actively concealed by Soviet
>authorities and/or the CPUSA?  The discussion here seems to have assumed
>a linear connection among Soviet practice, Soviet doctrine/dogma, CPUSA
>teaching, and the actual beliefs of CPUSA members.  That connection
>seems plausible, but hardly inevitable, and I don't know enough of the
>history to verify it.
>
>If, on the other hand, the argument is that, because the CPUSA opposed
>expressive freedom, any member of the CPUSA (with the possible exception
>of the quick and the stupid) must be branded an opponent of expressive
>freedom notwithstanding his or her protestations, then the debate
>changes.  Recently I read a column by a prominent gay rights advocate,
>who claimed that any Catholic was necessarily an enemy of gay rights.  I
>had the same reaction to that argument that I have to this one (assuming
>anyone means to make it).  I know a lot of committed Catholics who
>disagree with the Church's teachings on gay issues.  They're Catholics
>because they believe in the theology, and in some cases because they
>subscribe to other Catholic social teachings and feel comfortable
>selectively subscribing to Church teachings.  To call such people
>enemies of gay rights is supportable, but necessarily value-laden and
>arguably unfair.  Similarly, some members of the CPUSA may have believed
>Soviet-style communism as they understood it could be reformed to
>include expressive freedom, or they may have seen the CPUSA as the most
>effective vehicle for their other political beliefs and held their noses
>when the party railed against free speech.  Any such balancing act may
>have been stupid, doomed, ethically/morally indefensible, or even
>disingenuous, but I think one has to at least articulate one of those
>objections before disqualifying such people's free speech credentials.
>
>Greg.
>
>  
>
>>>>Ilya Somin <isomin at gmu.edu> 9/12/2006 2:43:18 PM >>>
>>>>        
>>>>
>The key confusion here is that, while the CPUSA did publicly deny its 
>financial and  espionage ties to the USSR, they never denied (and
>indeed 
>loudly proclaimed) their support for the Soviet system, and their view
>
>that it was a model for the US to emulate. Perhaps some casual, 
>short-term members of the CPUSA might have been unaware of this 
>position, despited their repeated enunciation by the party leadership..
>
>But committed, longterm members  certainly were aware. Indeed, one
>could 
>not be a committed longterm member without endorsing such positions, 
>since failure to do so led to expulsion from the Party.
>
>Howard Schweber wrote:
>
>  
>
>>> The confusion many have among members the Communist Party, 
>>>Communists, and for the matter, "all lefists" (as described in one 
>>>post) is a result of confusion intentionally sown over the years by
>>>      
>>>
>
>  
>
>>>the Communist Party itself.  The CPUSA, to get the sympathy of the 
>>>American left, portrayed itself as an innocent "socialist" movement
>>>      
>>>
>
>  
>
>>>repressed by the U.S. government for the sole crime of supporting 
>>>radical ideas.  Its leaders never acknowledged that it received both
>>>      
>>>
>
>  
>
>>>most of its funding and all of its marching orders directly from the
>>>      
>>>
>
>  
>
>>>USSR, nor, of course, that it engaged in a massive espionage
>>>      
>>>
>campaign 
>  
>
>>>in the 1930s and 40s on behalf of the USSR, using loyal CPUSA
>>>      
>>>
>members 
>  
>
>>>as spies.
>>>      
>>>
>>
>>The problem with Prof. Bernstein's argument lies in the middle term
>>    
>>
>of 
>  
>
>>the syllogism.  His argument goes like this:
>>
>>1.  Someone who supports Soviet tyranny cannot be a champion of free
>>    
>>
>
>  
>
>>speech
>>
>>2.  All members of the CPUSA supported Soviet tyranny
>>
>>ergo  3.  No member of the CPUSA can be a champion of free speech.
>>
>>I agree with the first proposition, subject to Mark Graber's cautions
>>    
>>
>
>  
>
>>about the use of "champion" (I think we are using the term somewhat 
>>loosely, frankly.)  The problem, of course, is that the middle 
>>statement is false, and all of Prof. Bernstein's evidence goes to a 
>>    
>>
>
>  
>
>>different proposition, which is "the CPUSA as an organization was 
>>committed to supporting Soviet tyranny."  The very fact that the 
>>leaders of the CPUSA never acknowledged their ties to the Soviet
>>    
>>
>Union 
>  
>
>>is prima facie a reason *not* to accept the assumption that every 
>>member of the organization was aware of those ties!
>>
>>For the 1,000th time.  No one is defending the CPUSA, what is being 
>>contested is the proposition that we do not need to engage in any
>>    
>>
>kind 
>  
>
>>of case-by-case review before deciding that the fact of membership in
>>    
>>
>
>  
>
>>the CPUSA, at all points in history, translates into the rejection of
>>    
>>
>
>  
>
>>a candidate for "champion" status.  The absolute refusal of the 
>>counter-arguments to adress the actual point being made verges on the
>>    
>>
>
>  
>
>>disingenuous.
>>
>>I note that now Prof. Bernstein has added a new, even more 
>>preposterous claim:  that no one on the American Right ever advocated
>>    
>>
>
>  
>
>>tyranny or the adoption of foreign models of anti-communism.  From 
>>Father Coughlin and Charles Lindbergh to the KKK, Aryan Nation, and 
>>home-grown Christian ayatollahs like Pat Robertson, the American
>>    
>>
>Right 
>  
>
>>is loaded with people who have asserted the benefits of tyranny,
>>    
>>
>often 
>  
>
>>based on models imported from elsewhere (as in "we should do what
>>    
>>
>they 
>  
>
>>do in ___ with these commies/gays/Jews, line 'em up and shoot 'em"). 
>>    
>>
> 
>  
>
>>Prof. Bernstein is not unaware of these and many other similar 
>>characters, so he cannot mean what he says literally.  What Prof. 
>>Bernstein means, I presume, is that "respectable members of the 
>>American Right with whom I would choose to be associated" made only 
>>tactical alliances with tyrants.  Which I am sure is true, but is a 
>>very different claim.
>>
>>Howard Schweber
>>Dept. of Political Science
>>UW-Madison
>>_______________________________________________
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>>
>
>
>  
>

-- 
Ilya Somin
Assistant Professor of Law
George Mason University School of Law
3301 N. Fairfax Dr.
Arlington, VA 22201
ph: 703-993-8069
fax: 703-993-8202
e-mail: isomin at gmu.edu
Website: http://mason.gmu.edu/~isomin/

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